The SEED award, which stands for Student Enhanced Engagement and Development, is awarded by the Queen Mary Academy to students who apply and are registered at Queen Mary University of London each year to recognise their important contribution in shaping and co- creating education at the University.
One of this year’s recipient is Rosie Matthews, a first year History student who has worked tirelessly to improve learning disability accessibility and support for students.
Rosie started studying at Queen Mary in September 2020. Soon after, Rosie was formally diagnosed as dyslexic. She had found her struggles with language had intensified from school because of the move to online learning and the added rigours of higher education.
Most would have struggled to find the positives in this. But for Rosie it sparked an interest in helping others. She decided to ensure a better experience for those with similar impairments.
Raising awareness was important, but less so than finding solutions so that no one would be disadvantaged in their work towards their degree.
What were the issues?
With in-person learning not able to take place because of the pandemic, lectures and seminars were moved online to help ensure student safety against the virus. This was the same in universities around the country.
Rosie’s dyslexia meant that she was not able to access the materials in much the same way as her peers. For example, tools such as read aloud functions not working optimally and the chosen fonts and colours made it hard for Rosie to complete the required reading.
Commenting on her experience, Rosie said: “I used to get really stressed by not being able to do the work I needed to. Like everyone here I always want to do the very best I can in everything I do, but it’s hard to put into words how difficult all these things made it for me.
“Thankfully, the University couldn’t have been more supportive and were genuinely caring and honest when I told them about the issues, the amount of extra work I was having to do and how things could be better. Especially as I recognised that I was likely not alone in this.”
So what changed?
Over the course of the year, staff within the School of History listened carefully to Rosie’s feedback and worked hard to address the problems raised. Feedback around the online tools has been passed onto software developers who are working on new, more disability-friendly software to be used by thousands of pupils.
Rosie also represented students with disabilities at Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion meetings and identified external resources used by staff that were not learning-disability friendly.
“I’m definitely not going to be stopping my work any time soon,” said Rosie. “I’m grateful to everyone in the School of History who really listened and took on board all of the feedback. It’s so much easier for me to learn now compared to the start of my first year, and others with similar difficulties like visual impairments have said the same.”
“To have gained the SEED award is a huge point of pride. I can’t think of a better way to have all the work of the past year recognised, and I feel lucky to have had the chance to shape and improve my course.”
Alison Pettigrew, Head of Education and Learning at Queen Mary Academy said: “It’s difficult to think of students who have contributed to their education and helped those around them as much as Rosie has this year.
“She fully deserves the plaudits and the SEED award, which will no doubt help her stand out from the crowd in future.”
If you think you have made a significant contribution to the teaching or learning experience on your course, then apply for the 2021-22 SEED award: https://www.qmul.ac.uk/queenmaryacademy/seed-award/seed-application/