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HiOA awarded the Universell Prize for 2017

The Department of Computer Science at Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences (HiOA) has received the first national universal accessibility award in higher education.

Olav Johan Øye Published: Updated:
Bilde av Kjetil Knarlag og Frode Eika Sandnes

The prize was awarded at Universell’s national conference on inclusive learning environments in Trondheim on 17– 18 October. The department won the prize for its work on inclusive learning environments.

To quote the award:

'It sends a strong signal to receive an award for both inclusion and development of the discipline, while at the same time taking responsibility for students on its study programmes who have adaptation needs. […]

The department has long prioritised raising competence in this area, exemplified by their master’s degree in universal design of information and communication technology , and by including universal design in other computer science programmes.

This award follows an international innovation award in 2015 from the Zero Project Foundation.

An honour for the department

‘Universell’s accessibility award for higher education honours the academic environment, sections, staff and students who have contributed to making higher education more accessible by using universally designed or adapted services, initiatives or projects,’ Universell writes on its website.

Flexible academic environment

In the grounds for the jury’s decision, it pointed out that the department meets all the most important criteria for the award and that it stands out from the crowd in relation to universal design and adaptation.

Universell.no also writes that the department has academic staff who are unusually flexible and willing to go that extra mile to include students who have functional impairments, especially those with invisible disabilities and mental health problems.

Close follow-up of students

The department has made arrangements for alternative assessment methods, and it closely follows up with its students and is flexible when students need more time to complete their studies.

The result is that many technology students with functional challenges have experienced a sense of mastery and completed their study programmes.

It is also emphasised that student resources are used constructively in learning work, and that the department has been good at promoting social integration and student-based learning support. They have cooperated well with partners at the faculty level and in the central support service.

The jury emphasises that it sends a strong signal that an academic department focuses both on inclusion and development of the discipline, while at the same time taking responsibility for students in its study programmes who need accommodations.

Inclusion and accommodation are institutional responsibilities that require both a systematic approach and commitment. The fact that a department makes particular efforts and is nominated for these endeavours is particularly positive, in the jury's opinion.

Universal design integrated in study programmes

The jury also emphasised that the department has responded to a major challenge in our society, namely raising competence in universal design as an academic and research topic .

Universell.no also writes that te department has long prioritised raising competence in universal design of ICT, for example by having master’s degree students who conduct cutting-edge research on this topic.

It is also emphasised that universal design is integrated as a natural part of other study programmes at the department.

In the grounds for their decision, the jury concludes by saying that, since universal design of ICT is an important focus area in the Government’s action plan, and since new requirements for universal design of ICT have recently been added to the Equality and Anti-discrimination Act, this year’s prize-winner will continue to play an important role in the development of the field in future.

Means a lot to the department

‘It is a great honour for the Department of Computer Science to get this award,’ says Head of Department Laurence Habib.

‘It means a great deal that an institution as central as Universell has recognised the efforts that the staff at the department make every day to make our programmes inclusive and accessible. As a result, our students can feel confident that they are given an opportunity to succeed in their studies, regardless of their point of departure and health situation.’

‘As a department, we believe it is important that universal design is not just the focus of our scientific research, but also something that informs everything we do with the students, be it teaching, supervision, assessment or any other contact with the students,’ she adds.

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