Creating open resources for accessible maths

This blog has been contributed by Lilian Joy, University of York and Jenny Hughes, University of Sheffield.

Our Jisc accessible maths community started in September 2021 with 6 members from 5 universities. It grew over time as we each invited other people to the group so that there are now about 33 regular members from 19 organisations and still growing. We started a JiscMAIL group in May 2022 to try and include more people and provide a space for ongoing discussions between meetings.

The strength of collective involvement

Before this community came together, there were individuals in various universities trying to understand or promote accessible maths in silos. This community provided a way to bring together the work of key people in the sector, to amplify their good practice and to help bring about a whole organisation approach to accessible maths. There are so many different approaches to accessible maths that have to be researched and one person can’t do everything. There are people in the community who have already spent time looking into making maths more accessible, so it made sense to draw on people’s expertise and not reinvent the wheel.

Doing the work together as a group helps to amplify the successful approaches that have been implemented that others can learn from. Replicating these approaches across different organisations spreads sustainable practices and provides evidence of successful transfer. However, the main thing we enjoy is scratching our heads together as we try to figure out what works. When one person has a question, someone in the group is likely to be able to answer it or know someone else who can! It can be a lonely journey if you’re the only person in your organisation trying to progress accessible maths. This community provides the support and ideas that could be the spark to having an accessible maths community in your own organisation.

Creating tangible outputs

As a group we knew that we wanted to collaboratively create a digital footprint of our interactions and resources, and our Github site, A11ymaths, is a great way to do that. When we first started, we discussed using Google Docs, Microsoft Teams and other collaborative spaces but settled on Github as a neutral space where we could easily share authorship and resources with everyone. We use this space to record our meeting stories and starting with our first story can be a good way for someone new to the group to understand our journey and to catch up with our progress. We also encourage members to add links to resources from their organisations so it’s easily available to everyone from one place. We encourage anyone who wants to contribute to do so.

The topic of accessible maths can be quite broad, so you have to take advantage of the expertise in the group for presentations and try to bring in speakers to answer questions where needed. New members can find it challenging to understand some of the content being discussed initially but over time, immersion in the topic really helps. We created a glossary on Github with most of the key words and topics discussed in meetings and this continues to be updated by members as we expand our vocabulary.

How you can do the same

We’ve found huge benefit from working as a community to collectively learn and create resources. Here are our top tips for others looking to do something similar:

  1. Ensure there are at least 2 committed co-chairs to create resilience in the network. Taking turns to chair and minute the meetings spreads the workload.
  2. Agree a shared purpose and some outputs to work on that provide tangible evidence of progress. Check on this regularly and adapt as needed.
  3. Have a way of onboarding new members so you don’t spend every meeting introducing everyone. We’re going to try spending 5 minutes at the beginning of the meeting in small breakout groups so new members meet some regulars. This will hopefully help new members to settle in more easily.

Never stand still

And what’s next for us? We are always learning and keen to try new ways of collaborating. We are planning more time for small group breakouts so that more people can speak at our events, because we think it will create more community space and feel less like a meeting.

We are moving towards a structure where each participant commits to taking one approach or example and trying it out and then reporting back at the next meeting.

Also, apart from working on universal design approaches, we are looking at writing specific stories to help deep dive into processes and workflows that work for individuals.

We’re excited about the future of the group and looking forward to our continued collaboration.

Get involved:

Join the Accessibility Community Group (where the Accessible Maths group was founded)

Join the Accessible Maths JiscMAIL group

See Natasha’s blog for more on managing collaborative content projects.

Image credit: Skitterphoto from Pexels:

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