University of Central Lancashire is making sure students can keep learning in any language, including BSL

Students at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) are using Microsoft Teams to attend lectures that also feature British Sign Language.

In-person teaching was halted in March as the Government announced UK-wide measures to tackle the Coronavirus pandemic. UCLan, which has its main campus in Preston, quickly set up virtual lectures via Teams, which enabled students to continue learning while they are at home.

The university wanted to ensure online lessons were as accessible to as many students as possible, so they asked British Sign Language interpreters to sign the content in real time. Students also use Microsoft Translate to receive live captions of the lectures, which also helps those who don’t list English as their first language.

Maureen Nicholson, one of the British Sign Language interpreters at UCLan, said: “It’s all about giving students the right level of access and making them feel like they don’t have to jump through any hoops and to have anything extra. It should be just an equal playing field, and I think that’s what I really like about this University, accessibility isn’t an afterthought.”

Lectures delivered via Teams are often recorded, allowing students to review them as often as they like or, in the case of overseas students, watch them at a time more appropriate for their time zone.

A girl sits at home looking at a Microsoft Surface tablet

Lectures delivered via Teams are often recorded, allowing students to review them as often as they like

UCLan started using Teams in 2018 following the launch of a new learning and teaching strategy that aimed to deliver an “inspirational” and modern learning experience. As part of this plan, university staff were equipped with Surface devices and Office 365 was rolled out across the four campuses.

James Crooks, Director of Learning and Information Services at UCLan, added: “Microsoft Surface has been at the core of our technology strategy for a couple of years now. Combine that with Windows 10 and Office 365, in particular Microsoft Teams, and we are building the ideal digital platform.

“None of us would have realised how mission critical this would all prove to be until we started to see the global impacts of COVID-19, not just on learning and teaching in universities but on society more broadly.

“In the space of two weeks, we managed to mobilize all of our on-campus delivery to an online model. All of our 28,000 students, supported by 3,000 staff, are now working online in a really effective way, with students engaging and interacting probably more so than they ever have been able to, because they’re online.”

Chris Rothwell, Director of Education at Microsoft UK, said: “Seeing students and academics at UCLan continue to engage with learning and teaching at this level, despite these unprecedented circumstances, is truly inspiring. I’m proud that our technology has a role to play in this and looking forward to see how universities continue to innovate and make learning more accessible in the future.”