Guest blog by Dr Julie Holland: Dyslexia Nightmare 2 (35/52)

You can’t beat a good horror story sequel!

To be honest Alien (1979) would have been quite an enough without Aliens (1986), Alien 3 (1992) and Alien Resurrection (1997) and prequels Prometheus (2012), Alien: Covenant (2017)

Following hot on the heels of the ‘Dyslexia Nightmare Fortnight: GSCE and A-level Results‘ blog, I thought an academic’s perspective on marking might be particularly insightful. Julie Holland is Head of Executive Education & Corporate Relations at Nottingham Trent University and perviously Director of the Glendonbrook Institute for Enterprise Development at Loughborough University.

Dr Julie Holland: Dyslexia Nightmare 2

Twice a year I get that sinking feeling! An email alert tells me that I’ve got three boxes of exam scripts to pick up. “You’ll need a trolley and you’ve got ten days” the administrator says. Sounds familiar? Yes of course it does but for the dyslexic academic marking coursework and examination scripts, particularly handwritten, can be one of the most stressful aspects of academic life. I often give myself a talking too. I imagine the students taking the exam. Their paper is so important to them personally, but when added anonymously to an ever increasing pile of papers, it becomes just another number. I want to make sure that I consider each piece of work carefully but with shortening deadlines, I know that this will mean many hours of reading with inevitable fatigue that can’t be good for the student or my wellbeing. Yes it’s the same for all academics, but spare a thought for those with dyslexia. We want to give every paper our full attention but it will take us many more hours to mark papers than our non-dyslexic colleagues.

To be frank, I’ve tried all sorts of tricks to get through this essential academic task in order to meet the exam marking deadline. I’ve used a magnifying ruler given to me by a dyslexic friend, and a coloured transparent page to put on top of the script. Nothing has worked. In fact it has slowed me down even more. I had to do something radical, and while a solution to my hand written exam marking problems has yet to be found, I have at least found help with marking electronic documents.

A couple of years back, I was faced with the usual three boxes of pink examination papers. The first twenty scripts were in a special packet; those students tested by disability services and granted extra time. If only the dyslexic academics could get the same. So having spoken to one or two colleagues who I knew wouldn’t betray my secret, I gave the disability centre a ring. The answer was sympathetic but disappointing. ‘We only really provide help for students, not staff’ was their reply.

Undeterred, I decided to see what external help I could get. There must be technology available? I’d seen an MBA student, dictating to her computer using an app called Dragon. Perhaps this would help me write. I certainly don’t have any problems talking! Then there was software to help keep your eye in the right place. It helped, but how do you get through a 120 page masters project one word at a time? My technological saviour came in the shape of Read and Write, Gold, computer software developed to assist with reading and writing disabilities. It seemed at first to be predominantly aimed at children and students, but I found the trial really helpful particularly because the voice, while computerised, was of a very high quality. Although lacking the silky smooth tones of a BBC newsreader, I could actually listen to the voice for more than ten minutes without needing to take a break. Progress at last.

Read & Write is expensive, but it’s well worth the investment. I’m doing much better and although I only use the software for electronic documents, I use it for every aspect of my work from reading papers to reading email. In an environment when marking on line is becoming the norm, things are certainly looking up for this dyslexic academic. Perhaps one day, technology experts will create software that will turn every handwritten exam script into something that can be listened to. I expect that this software already exists and speaking to a research collaborator at IBM, I was assured that computers would soon be able to do the marking for us (Dr Watson, I presume!). I would also make a plea to university exams offices, departments and schools. Please spare a thought those of us who read at half the speed of our non-dyslexic colleagues and certainly ask the question of staff as well as students, confidentially of course…… ‘Do you need more time during the exam period?’

Many thanks to Julie for sharing this challange.

Nigel LockettThe Dyslexic Professor
University dyslexia support