Making maths accessible


We believe everyone deserves the chance to find joy in maths. That's why we've invited two expert industry voices to join us for a special 'Making maths accessible' episode of Texthelp Talks.

Sammy White is an FE maths lecturer & consultant, and Lilian Soon is an education adviser at the University of York. Listen along as they discuss the challenges facing maths educators and the role of technology in helping to make maths more inclusive and engaging for all students.

Listen to Sammy's E&M Booth podcast by visiting: e-m-booth.site

Visit The University of York's Accessible Equations here: bit.ly/eaccess-equations2

Transcript

Patrick McGrath:
Welcome to another episode of Texthelp Talks podcast. As always, we've got a host of experts covering a range of topics from education right through to workplace. So do make sure you subscribe to your preferred podcast player or streaming service, so you never miss an episode. And of course you can also join the conversation using the hashtag #TexthelpTalks on Twitter. We'd love to hear your questions. We'd love to hear your feedback put to our wonderful guests here today. And speaking of guests, I'm Patrick McGrath, and I am head of education strategy here at Texthelp. I've got two very good friends of mine as guests today. And because they're friends, you may well hear them refer to me either as Patrick or Paddy on this podcast. So please don't be confused, I move between both of those. That's the pleasure and privilege of being from Northern Ireland, names change. But as we go forward, a huge welcome to Lilian and Sammy. Lilian, Sammy, huge welcome to another episode of Texthelp Talks. How are you both doing today?

Lilian Soon:
We're doing good. Thank you, Patrick.

Patrick:
Good, good. And Sammy, how are you?

Sammy White:
Yeah, and good thing it was... That couldn't have been any stronger in your accent now, could it?

Patrick:
Absolutely not. There's two things I always apologise for in podcasts and used to be, you know those old days where we used to get up in front of the people on the stage at events, it was A, that I'm from Northern Ireland and B, that I talk too much and talk too fast. And those things certainly for me, haven't changed over the pandemic. And I would say to our listeners, we have three absolute talkers on the podcast today, and I know it's going to be a really, really exciting episode today with both Lillian and Sammy. And one of the things that I learned about... Well, I learned two things when we were doing our little preamble before today. Number one, that both our panelists and guests had never actually met in person. That may or may not have been COVID, but actually live in the same town. And I think we could probably get to a point where they could wave at each other at the window and say, hello. Would that be about right guys? Yeah?

Lilian:
We can practically share a brownie. Yes, we can practically share a brownie.

Patrick:
Well, Lilian, that was the second thing that I learned that I need to be in that town, because what Lilian described to me was that brownies there are the size of your head. So whilst this may not be related to our topic today, that definitely does excite me. However, the exciting thing about today is that we're going to talk about maths. Or depending on where you're listening from, it could well be math, but for the duration of today, we're going to be talking about maths and how we might look to make maths more accessible, both from access from our students' perspective, but then also for students with individual or specific needs where accessible maths is a real huge priority.

Patrick:
So to give you a bit more background on our guests. First up is Sammy White. So Sammy is an FE maths lecturer, currently at Harrogate College, also now consulting with colleges across the country on developing their use of educational technology, and advising on the strategies for what is the most important thing teaching and learning. Sammy goes down I think almost in history here at this point, Sammy, as the first female Google for Education certified coach. Try saying that after eating a brownie, Google for Education certified coach in Europe and she's also, of course, many of you will know her as a Google innovator and trainer. So Sammy, huge welcome to you. Interested in a Google for Education certified coach because not many people would necessarily have come across that particular level of Google certification. Can you give us a little bit of description on that and what that entailed?

Sammy:
Yeah, so it's a new one. Graham Macaulay was the first and then I was the second in MAA region. But yeah, it's all about flipping the narrative in terms of training. It's about identifying a problem that a teacher is facing and then helping them through coaching to find solutions to that problem and try new things. So it empowers teachers rather than waiting for us to train teachers, if that makes sense.

Patrick:
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Brilliant. And maybe we'll touch upon that because really today, as we're talking about maths, we want to see how we can support both our colleagues and our students in maths and coaching is obviously a very central part in maths. So next up by way of introduction, we have Lilian Soon. Lilian is an educational advisor at the University of York. Who's passionate about digital accessibility, and I knew that to be true first time, having worked with her for quite some time over the last year. Inclusive practice and also of course, staff development. She's over 28 years experience as a teacher, trainer, e-learning manager and consultant in vocational education, higher education and the private sector, and also clearly a brownie expert as well. Lilian, after that, I think you need to add that into your bio.

Patrick:
Her current research interests include progressing accessible mathematical texts, the experience of disabled staff and students, and appreciative inquiry as a model for staff development. So Lilian, you're very welcome. We'll not talk about brownies, but what I'd love to pick up on from your bio, there is some people will be very clearly aware of appreciative inquiry as a model, but can you give us the two cents tour of appreciative inquiry?

Lilian:
Yeah, absolutely. It's basically a form of inquiry or research where you slightly bias your questions towards the positive. So you're always looking for the growth opportunities because as we all know, you coach staff or you talk to staff and it's very easy for the conversation to spiral into despair, doom, and challenges. And what the growth approach does is, it asks or invites someone to talk about the thing that's worked really well, what has worked best for them, and talk about where the opportunities are to do more of that. And so you make sure that you grow and not just... It's like the deficit model where you're talking about challenges. We do the opposite. We talk about the growth and opportunities for growth.

Patrick:
Brilliant, brilliant. Never been a more important time for that positivity through the last year and a half that we've all had, or the blur of the last year and a half we've all had. And on the podcasts that I host, I try and refer not so much to COVID I might drop in the latter B.C. on this. So pre-COVID as we go through, but we really want to look at the future of maths, perhaps look at some of the lessons that we've learned through, let's stick with the term remote learning and throughout that period of time, what have we learned? What have we learned about our students? What have we learned about maths? What have we learned about maths on digital devices and accessibility, and how can we take that forward?

Patrick:
And just by way of intro to today, maths of course is a subject, and I'm almost hesitant to say this, but sometimes maths can be seen by our students and by our teachers as very much still in a pen and paper era and something that really needs to be moved forward. And I do remember, and I've never forgotten this, where my very first maths conference that I spoke at, I got up and I thought I was being really cool at this wonderful poll. And tell me about all the technology that you're using in your maths classroom. And everybody had a clicker and we were pressing the buttons, and the only two things that went on the word cloud that appeared were an interactive whiteboard and a calculator. And talk about the enthusiasm being drawn out of me at that point. But I do think that the change in terms of hybrid learning and how we've moved to more digital devices and equip more students with digital devices, has certainly expedited that as a change.

Patrick:
But I think also and I'm wondering if you guys will agree with me on this, that it has highlighted perhaps I think both achievement gaps, but also what I call the interest gap. Do you know that maths is an abstract subject? I can't tie maths to the real world, dis-interest. Have you guys found that this has been a particular challenge? And I don't want to talk about learning loss, because there's lots of debate over what that is and what that looks like. And if it's a thing in terms of the way it's being presented. So we'll hold up for a little second, but do you think there have been challenges more clearly identified as we've shifted remote learning and maybe, Sammy, I'll start with you on that one?

Sammy:
I think the challenges are to shift it from pen and paper, essentially. But I come from an FE background, but like you said, that connection to the real world, how do we make maths thread through what we've come to college to study? And we've got to build those connections, and that's the challenge, and the skill of the maths teacher is to build those connections. If you stand there and you teach maths as an abstract subject, then it's never going to be connected. You have to actively seek opportunities to expand on the maths that naturally arise in their subjects.

Patrick:
Yeah. And Lilian, from your perspective, have you noticed a change in maths that comes through remote learning? Have you noticed that there has been challenges there, more challenges than before? Or as Sammy said, the bigger challenge has been that migration to digital platforms?

Lilian:
A bit of both, and I'm going to speak from a staff perspective mostly. That staff are missing that performance element of teaching and especially with maths and even at university level, a lot of our maths teachers still favour a chalkboard. And the way they can draw out the equation is part of the performance and excitement that you bring across what the equation is doing, what the maths is saying. And also, they're constantly doing things like crossing out, so they're animating the maths, they're bringing it to life in front of the students. And that is so much harder to do when you're in a little camera screen. So they have adapted. It's taking them longer to do this, but they're finding it quite a cold environment without the faces of the students in front of them.

Lilian:
And as Sammy said, the digitising of maths, a lot of staff have just turned to their five-year-old magnetic whiteboards behind them, for instance. And they're still using these tactile methods that work. Although it's very hard to do higher education maths on a small white board, others have learned to use digital tools. But that performance that Sammy intimated, is missing from a lot of the live performances of maths teaching really.

Patrick:
Sure. Prior to our discussion today, I was just thinking about maths in general and from a Texthelp perspective, of course, you will very much have the belief that the average student deserves the opportunity to find that joy in maths, irrespective of where they're learning maths, whether it's on a digital device or a pen and paper, and no doubt all of us on this podcast, for sure. And hopefully all of our listeners do want to be inclusive and create passionate maths learners, for sure. It is an essential skill. And I think sometimes, and all this talk of learning loss, I think literacy has been promoted very, very heavily. And not that it shouldn't be promoted as a challenge, but I think sometimes that deficit in maths, both from a staff perspective and from a pupil and student perspective is almost just... The profile of it for me hasn't been raised as much as it should do.

Patrick:
And it is another fundamental skill, because we hear about the shortage of STEM skills in the UK. And we're not here to talk about employability. We generally want to talk about the love of maths, but it is important that we find the right tools and approaches to make maths more accessible. Because what we I suppose can, and shouldn't forget about, are some of those students that we have taught on a daily basis and have moved to remote learning. And what does inclusion mean and what does accessibility mean for them? So let's just think about the challenges as we go in terms of some areas to chat across. Do you think in that move to digital... I'll come to you maybe first Sammy on that, that the lack of time and resources has been a challenge? You talked about that kind of vertical move to getting things from pen and paper to digital. Has the time thing been a challenge, has the lack of resources or availability of tools been a challenge there?

Sammy:
Something you said there, was it literacy and maths is an essential skill. Well, in FE, we have essential digital skills. So we are mandated as well to drive the digital skills of our students. When the pandemic first hit, fortunately, the only positive was that we'd almost finished teaching the GCSE course and COVID came at that point, we were just about to hit Easter holidays. So we were able to model our way through. I took that time to then think about what we're going to do for September. How do I make this look and feel different? How do I make my students feel comfortable in their lesson? How do I make it accessible to them regardless of where they are. And something that I always start with at the beginning of every year is I sit them all down, with all the coloured overlays that I have.

Sammy:
And I've got adults that haven't been in education for 20, 30 years. And every year, we'll discover that somebody needs something on a different coloured paper to make it easier for them to read. And they've gone through their whole life, not knowing that. And so if you come from that point of view, as a teacher of how do I make this accessible from the very beginning, it's your responsibility then to up skill yourself in what's available and out there to give those tools and techniques to your students, to help them find it accessible. This year, exact same thing happened. Fortunately, I'm going to say it, it was Read&Write toolbar. And I just showed all my students how to change their screen masking, how to get to read aloud. And I had a student who was 28 years old this year, and she had never been able to read maths questions properly, the long text ones.

Sammy:
And she's passed in English, she just couldn't pass in math. She has been at college since she was 16. So she's been there 12 years. And all of a sudden we were able to just get to be able to understand the questions and hear what the questions were saying. And she is absolutely fluid. So the time is an issue, but we have that little bit of time. And it was about coming from a point of let's start from the very beginning, how do I make it accessible? And then what's out there to help my students.

Patrick:
Yeah. And just thinking as you talk there Sammy, that there is clearly an opportunity developed here that we may not have seen. And Lilian from your perspective, I think it's fair to say that HE, has always traditionally been very good at assessing individual student needs. And I'm not saying any other sector, but HE has a very defined way to do that. But flipping back to maybe your appreciative inquiry and always looking on the positive, has the periods of remote learning actually created opportunity? For example, the student that Sammy mentioned earlier, we may well not have uncovered that and give them that tool had they not moved to remote learning, they may never have uncovered that tool and realised that they could use that tool for that specific purpose. Do you think there are opportunities there for maths teaching and learning that we can grasp a hold off going forward? And not just about accessibility, maths engagement in general?

Lilian:
Yeah, absolutely. And I have to just reinforce the fact that I don't do any maths teaching because Sammy does. But I work with a lot of academics who have to get mathematical content across. I support the social sciences and they do a lot of mathematical material in economics and management, for instance, as well as all our science teachers. So, yeah, I think it certainly has become an opportunity as we've seen across the board for all lecturers to change their practice and adopt more digital technologies. And in one fell swoop, all the kind of talk about barriers that tutors encounter when they try and adopt learning technology, it just fell by the wayside overnight because we had a bigger, more important agenda, how to get that learning in front of students when they weren't in front of you. So nobody could afford to hang back, they had to grab the bull by the horns and absolutely do whatever they could to make their teaching accessible to students remotely.

Lilian:
And for teachers who were used to having, like I say, chalkboards or whiteboards or any other kind of materials to support their lecturing performance, they did have to think about how to get the maths into a digital form at some point because hand-writing would only go so far on a small screen. And as a result, a lot of tutors were saying things like, "Well, I had to put everything that I would normally say into a digital handout," whereas they might have relied on pictures of a board before, they were actually beginning to prepare the materials ahead of time to pass to the students because they were providing these handouts to supplement the kind of chalk and talk videos that they were producing. So as a result, more maths was getting digitised.

Lilian:
Now we were very lucky that even when the pandemic started, that we had already put in place some enablers, we'd already made that move to remove barriers as much as possible and put in place enablers for digital maths. So for instance, we had MathJax on our VLE, and not every virtual learning environment has that, it can all display high quality maths. And we had already thought about... No, in fact, we only bought into EquatIO after lockdown happened. It was very, very timely. So we were really lucky at the time that our disability services saw this as an opportunity to go, yes, let's implement that support across the board, even for students who don't come to us as disability services, and make sure that every student is able to access tools that will help them to read. How I sell it is read, write, and listen to text and maths. This idea of being able to listen to maths is quite awesome for people, they don't realise there is a possibility. So that's how I sell it.

Patrick:
Yeah. Yeah. And just picking up on a couple of things that you said there, Lilian, you talked about just what you've said, the staff producing resources and almost what you've described there is that move towards universal design for learning without actually saying those three letters, because suddenly students have the ability to have content in advance. I mean, in the old days, we used to call that flipped learning almost, and that they got material in advance of the teaching the FaceTime. But now, if we think about that more clearly in terms of universal design for learning, what's starting to happen there? And I'm interested to hear your thoughts on this is, we are creating content in different formats in video, or with more images that is more accessible. We are giving it advance.

Patrick:
So we're using potentially our teaching time hopefully more effectively, and also there's almost accessibility by design built into that, or at least there should be. So your comments on that, I'd love to hear from either of you, but also then secondly, there's kind of a double whammy there I think, because what I'm interested in finding out is, if staff started to move things digital for a digital maths learning experience, were they cognisant of the fact that when doing that, accessibility had to be a key priority within that, or was that a steep learning curve? And maybe Sammy for you on some various sort of different wide range in levels of maths topics? Was that a challenge with staff, right? Make it digital, but also make it accessible? Do both?

Sammy:
Yeah. I think the instant reaction was digitising a piece of paper and scanning it in and sending over a PDF. Well, possibly the most inaccessible form that you could do it in. And then we hobbled into a make your own visualiser at home. Great. But can't be read by a screen reader because you're capturing it live and you're wiping it off and it's an image if you screenshot it. So again, it's not accessible. And so there was almost like this voice in an echo chamber of me going, okay, could we just look at making it a little bit more accessible? How could we do that? And the challenge is what you said about time, but it's about how do you spend your time as a teacher? What do you choose to spend your time in?

Sammy:
And you can be reactionary and you can scan things in, but you could be proactive and make your maths accessible. And that's been the best bit, is seeing staff embrace the tools and make maths more accessible. Don't get me wrong. PDFs still exist, but that's not the maths teacher's fault. The exams are PDF. So there's little we can do about that. But the shift in the mindset of the staffing actually PDFs, probably not right. Is there a different way? Is there a better way? And I've seen some wonderful slide decks made and some gifs made, and it's a steep learning curve for staff, but it's putting that at the heart of what they're doing rather than as the bit they do afterwards to undo what they already did.

Patrick:
Give me that one again. Absolutely. If I go, I was running a panel yesterday and we were talking at length about how accessibility in general, we all felt had really raised its head above the parapet over remote learning, that we used to talk about a couple of years ago, they used to be always a line saying every teacher should be a SEN teacher and everybody would throw that out. And we all meant that when we said it, but that's a very hard thing to put into practice. And it seemed like a very time-intensive thing, but I think now, so many more of our peers that we work with, have a real clear understanding that we could do better with clear understanding of what accessibility is and why it's so important. Lilian, from your perspective, if you're putting in staff development, what do you focus on first? You focus on accessibility or did you focus on digitisation or those two are so inter-linked now that they carry the same weight and staff get that?

Lilian:
I think we're trying to create that environment. So that it's quite easy to create accessible maths without having to think too hard about it. So in higher education, a lot of the maths is being produced with LaTex which by itself isn't that accessible, and the output tends to be PDF traditionally, which as Sammy has intimated, isn't a very accessible format. So what we've done recently is do a project where we took the best of all the LaTex documents that we could find and build in accessibility comments to create a template for staff. So that staff can kind of like, oh, if I'm going to create a hyperlink, oh, I'll use this style so that I know it's going to come out in an accessible hyperlink or add alternative text to my graphics and images and tables.

Lilian:
And we've done that research. And we are talking staff through the process of using something like Pandoc, which is almost like a translator to allow them to create accessible format from the original LaTex. So this kind of research, we do it once as much as we can, and then we disseminate it across to all the staff, but not just at the uni. We've created a website to support our staff, but it's quite widely used in the sector now as a starting point. And it's not just staff who do LaTex. We have a page on handwritten maths, like Sammy has mentioned, if you're the kind of person that tends to do handwritten maths, what's your next point, next step up to towards creating accessible maths? So it's recognising that everybody is somewhere on that path in terms of how they create accessible maths.

Lilian:
So we also have people who create maths in Word and PowerPoint, and again, the equation editor on there, yes, you could make it more accessible if you listened to an immersive reader, but let's face it, our screen reader users aren't going to use a tool like that because they already have a screen reading tool. And so we found the best route through, by getting another tool called Wiris MathType, making sure it was accessible to everybody at the university. So a student can create accessible maths, a tutor can create accessible maths. Our challenge has been making it visible front and center in our practice from day one. And this next year is the start of that, where we're going to start going into induction with students and actually showing them how they can actually rewrite and listen to maths, which will be new to them. And then through that, use that momentum to almost backfill the skills of our tutors as well.

Patrick:
Yeah. I think that's very, very important and we've talked a lot there about the development of resources about the teaching approach. But when we think about the learning from a student's perspective, we got to make sure that they have access to the tools and the knowledge and the skills, that are available to help them articulate. I mean, when we look at the old days of digital milestones, we didn't even have practically not even an online whiteboard that we could use very well, or certainly collaboratively, nevermind something like EquatIO, which I'm not allowed to mention because we're not allowed to publicise our own products on podcasts, but of course I'm going to mention EquatIO. Fabulous tool, and we all love it.

Patrick:
But the challenge is, it's always been difficult for a student to articulate maths, not even from an accessibility perspective, just to literally get it in any digital format. And Sammy, you've been exploring lots and lots. Obviously I know you are an EquatIO fan, and that goes without saying, but you've been looking at so many different tools. What's the kind of breadth of tools that you've been working with to help support students and their ability to contribute and create, and for me, explore maths?

Sammy:
Yeah. I do love EquatIO. And in terms of what you were just saying there, in terms of getting their maths, EquatIO Mobile still wins hands down for me because they can scan it and then it becomes accessible maths. So they've handwritten their maths, and then it becomes accessible maths well then. That's still a big win. And I always say, if the camera in EquatIO Mobile can't read your maths, then an examiner won't be able to read it. So go and try it again. So it promotes those high standards as well. And what you were saying about the collaborative white boards, I mean, a lot of people mentioned Jamboard and we have Google Reference College, but Jamboard for maths, yes and no. It's still clunky. It's still tricky. And it's that love of maths that you wants to foster as well, not just collaborate with them on it.

Sammy:
So I've been looking at Math Whiteboard. So math is without the S and that's a collaborative whiteboard, but they can manipulate expressions and it will try and solve them for them. And so it will show relationships between variables. You can graph things that you write, Y = MX + C, and then you swipe with your finger and it'll plot the graph for you straight away. And you can explore the table of values and understand why it's ended up the way it's ended up. And for me, that's been really useful for my students. Accessibility from a different point of view, I've also been able to invigilate these horrendous CAC situations using Math Whiteboard, because you can drop the PDF exam paper onto a Math Whiteboard and share the web-based link with the student. And because it's web-based, they can do it on their phone and it's touch screen.

Sammy:
And then if they don't have flashy devices at home, that they can do things with the phone, it might be the most powerful device. And some of my students have really appreciated the web-based aspect. So accessibility from a different point of view for me is, is it all web based? And can it be accessed on a phone really easily, because they might not have the opportunity otherwise to use it. But then you've also got Maths Whiteboard, maths with an S, whiteboard and that's with Matt Woodfine and he's been a guest on my podcast, which is the English and Maths Booth. And you can get it where you get your podcasts. But he's built a series of templates, games, generators, question banks, and what my students have really loved in terms of digitising and making it more accessible to them, they're adults, and they're busy and they're at work they can go load up a revision board of six topics there once a week through, an appropriate challenge level for them.

Sammy:
And just answer it interactively, using the finger on the phone, take a screenshot and send it to me. That's the power of where we're at now with everything. And yeah, so I have explored lots and lots and lots of things. And the main tool I've used throughout my teaching this year has to be Maths Kitchen, which again is a bank of questions. It's web-based, but it's free. And it does a 10-minute assessment. So I've got a nurse who's been frontline. Well, she's a healthcare assistant. She wants to be a nurse and she's been frontline, but she's able to for 10 minutes, sit on a break and do 10 minutes of solid GCSE, maths revision questions appropriate to the topic she needs to work on. Perfect.

Patrick:
Yeah. And I think that one thing that we've got to, again, we don't want to thank the pandemic for happening, it has been a horrendous experience for all of us, but I always think we do have to look at the opportunities in the positive side of difficult situations. And we've seen development of some pretty amazing tools for EquatIO. We've had to accelerate and we take lots of feedback. Lilian regularly sends me notes about EquatIO. Can we do this? Can we do this, Sammy? You're just as bad. Sorry, just as good I should say. But I think as edtech companies, as individual developers, we're all looking for ways that we can help build maths tools and some of those you mentioned Sammy are fabulous tools as well.

Patrick:
But what it does do for me, and I'm wondering, do you agree with this? Does that help make maths more personalised? Because it strikes me with what you've both said that students are having a much more unique to them maths experience now with this sort of plethora of tools and also the strategies that both of you already put in place in your respective institutions and staff training. Would that be fair to say, Lilian?

Lilian:
Sorry. Repeat that again.

Patrick:
I've lost you there. Do you think with all of these tools and the opportunities being created that students now do you get a genuinely more personalised experience of maths because they're engaging with it in their own way, their own type of format on their own tool?

Lilian:
Yeah, I think so. And although we're not, as you say, supposed to mention your tools and Mathspace, I've had an interview with one of our teaching assistants who work in the maths skill center, supporting students who are struggling with the maths at higher education. And she was under the impression that everybody used Mathspace. So she did.

Patrick:
Everybody does use Mathspace Lilian, what do you mean?

Lilian:
But the funny thing is now that she realises it's not everyone uses it, she's still using it because that's exactly what you want to hear, right? That actually they found the value of being able to scribble maths online with someone else watching in a tutorial situation, because you can't do it sitting next to someone at the moment, or maybe you can, but we're still doing online tutorials. So the value of a tool that allows you to be that in-between screen so the way of creating the maths, isn't a problem, you want to take away that problem of creating the maths. So you can just get on with learning and solving the maths problem. Yeah. And so something like Mathspace has been an enabler in that situation. And again, the challenge for us is at the moment it's still quite one way where the assistant is the person who's creating all the maths and the student might go, "Oh, I would take away this." and the tutor would be the one controlling the shared screen.

Lilian:
And instead, we've moved on to the situation where I've suggested to them, they try the mobile app. So the student could make tentative solutions, take a screenshot, and it appears straight away on that space, share it with the tutor. And so they can discuss it at the same time, as the first step towards the student starting to use the equation editor or the handwriting input panel in order to manipulate it. And as we know, all maths tuition requires a little bit of circling, drawing, crossing things out on top of the actual maths itself and tools like the ones that Sammy mentioned and Mathspace, allow that to happen. And I think that's so valuable that it supports the practice of teaching the maths or learning the maths, and communicating the maths.

Patrick:
Yeah. And we mentioned Universal Design for Learning earlier. And that's one thing that I've been excited about in terms of technology in general, that ability for students and of course staff, but students to engage with maths in a way that fits them. One thing I love, and it's terrible that I do this, but when you're talking about, say something like EquatIO and people go, okay, well, how do you take maths to go? How do you use this? And you go yeah, yeah, yeah. But what about LaTeX? Oh, you can do that too. And what about dictation? You can do that too. And then it goes all the way through to handwriting, because the big question that I always get when we're talking about maths still is, yes, but what about book work? That line book work, because everything has to be done on paper.

Patrick:
And we can still do that. And people forget that with digital tools, that we all have in our institutions, we can still do paper-based work, we can still make it digital. We can still have it available for assessment. She talked about Sammy, by writing on a phone on a particular app, I mean, that's accessible to that user in their own way. And it also helps with that digital journey. Lilian, talking about helping with digital journey, you mentioned earlier on that you have set up in York a maths website, is it an accessible website? Is it a maths website? Tell us a little bit more about that.

Lilian:
I hope it's an accessible website. Well, we built it using a tool called Zety. And we know HTML is the most accessible kind of denominator for documents. And anyone can access it and have a look at it. Accessibility wise, from a point of view of understandable, we're starting to... It's not just myself, but we have a working group to try and bring in a glossary so that it's easier for people to understand the terms that we've littered all through the site. And it's a labor of love because I started on this journey maybe nearly two years ago. And I put everything I knew as I was uncovering it into a Google doc. And I've now turned it into this website with lots of different specific areas.

Lilian:
Because as I said, someone who only wants to work with handwritten maths, wants to know the next step for them. They don't want to find out about LaTex for instance. But someone who works with LaTex only wants to look at LaTex, they're not bothered with Microsoft Word. So you have to have a place where you can convey what someone wants and get to the point quickly. But also you want to kind of introduce them to what else is on that spectrum of maths creation. So I find that the website's a very good place for that. Because I used to have just MathType for people who wanted to learn maths, but now I've brought it all together. People are able to see, oh, if I have a student who happens to be quite proficient with LaTex, I can at least point them to that, even if I don't know LaTex myself.

Lilian:
I can at least point them to that so that they can learn about creating accessible documents that have maths in them. And I think that's quite important because ultimately one of our goals is that not just our staff producing accessible documents for teaching and learning, but our students learn to create accessible documents so that when they go into the world of work, they're contributing to the public good and not becoming one of the people that needs to be trained. I see Sammy nodding away there, she absolutely agrees. That's exactly what we want to do.

Patrick:
Either that, or she's thinking about the brownie that you're going to buy her afterwards.I think she dreams of eating it.

Lilian:
Absolutely. You're all going to buy this Patrick.

Sammy:
Yeah, I do agree. And I think it sums it really nicely. What it is we're trying to achieve is we're not just trying to make maths successful. We're not just digitising. We're trying to prepare students for whatever the world has for them next and it all links in together.

Patrick:
Yeah, absolutely.

Lilian:
Absolutely.

Patrick:
And just a general question Sammy for you, and I apologise for jumping back a bit, but it just came to my mind there, we were talking about individual needs earlier on, one of our Texthelp most attended webinars in the last, I don't know when, probably in the last three or four months, certainly this year has been maths for students with dyslexia. And that really took me by surprise because sometimes those things aren't directly linked, and people don't consider the fact that if you're dyslexic, they'll put you in a box and they'll say, well, that's clearly a literacy thing. And people forget, I think sometimes practitioners, parents, staff, students forget that actually that can have a massive impact. And there're so many important areas that digital technology can bridge that. And so my question to you Sammy is, has literacy levels in general, and I mean, genuinely literacy levels impacted on the ability to learn maths and has digital tools helped that?

Lilian:
I think literacy levels have always impacted my students on the ability to learn maths. In my adult groups, I very often get new to the UK migrants who have brilliant maths knowledge. And if I write a question in numbers, they can solve it. But I'll never, ever forget, my most mortifying moment as a teacher of recent memory, is asking a probability question about a deck of cards. And my two students who had just arrived in the UK, they were heartbroken that they couldn't follow what I was saying, they I had no idea what I was talking about and they could solve it and they could solve what the probability problem was, but their faces were just distraught and frustrated that they couldn't follow it. This year because we've been online, and because we've given students choice that have to study. We've been able to put more things in place.

Sammy:
So I regularly use within my vocab list. And I pull off all the lists of the words I think are going to trip them up in the text. So if I'm doing an exam with them, I'll send them with a vocab list with a picture dictionary, just because I want to be that helping hand for them. I don't want anyone to ever feel uncomfortable that they can't follow what I've said. So I think we've been able to put more things in place for students, which has helped them feel more at ease, which then opens their mind up a little bit more to taking on some more maths.

Patrick:
Lilian was talking earlier about text to speech for maths. So does something like text to speech for maths help with that? Does that help support the vocabulary of maths? The language of maths? Well, has that been your experience, Sammy?

Sammy:
Yeah, certainly. And even things like the PDF reader, if I'm sending an example of a COVID maths book club, if they can read the PDF reader and hear the words, but then they might then be able to go and look up the word and be like, yeah, we don't have a word like that in our language or whatever it is. But even my student who was 28, I talked about earlier with the screen masking and had her use the text to speech. We are very confident that she's probably going to come out as dyslexic when we get reassessed, but she's gone through most of her life, not realising this and nobody's really checked anything. And that's nobody's fault in particular, but we've got to this point now where by using these tools, we found out what helps her and that's enabled us to then go back and go, right. What do you need from the very beginning then?

Patrick:
Yeah. I mean, what are they... statistically on dyslexia as an example, we would generally say that within our education circles, we have 5% of our students are actually identified as having some form of dyslexia. But the reality is that the research points to the fact that we could be 17 to 20% on average in the country in terms of dyslexia. And so one of my hopes, certainly from an accessibility standpoint, from a support standpoint is that remote learning has helped to dignify that, whether it's through self identification or whether it's through any formal means, and those digital tools can help students, but also that with maths as well, that the digital changes that they've seen can help them engage with maths more. Engage with it, take the abstract nature way, increase connectedness and obviously at all times make it accessible.

Patrick:
So all that remains is to thank you, both so, so, so much. I definitely did have a lot of fun today, two of my favourite people when it comes to maths, that I have the pleasure and privilege of working with throughout the year, a fabulous conversation, really interesting. And I'm sure our listeners find it the same. So this has been Texthelp Talks, another episode where we bring together a range of experts, such as Sammy and Lilian from across the education sector and hopefully bring you some content that really help you grow and develop. Do subscribe on your favourite podcast player and get all of our episodes only some of which I speak on. So you'll be very fortunate, I'll not be speaking at all of them, so you will get a variety of hosts. So do, do that and do of course, join in the conversation using the #texthelptalks on Twitter.

Patrick:
We'd love to hear from you and hopefully you'll tune in and listen again to our next podcast episode. Lilian, Sammy, thank you so much. I'm going to send you on your way, because I'm guessing that the thing you're going to do when you squeeze in 30 minutes today is meet up, socially distanced of course, and meet at wherever that brownie shop happens to be. So when we go off air here today, I definitely want that location, and I will be on the first plane. I can, subject to government restrictions and all that. So Lilian, thank you. Sammy, thank you. My pleasure.