Cross-modal Interactive Tools for Inclusive Learning

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Computer Science

Abstract

Students with special education needs are traditionally placed in specialized schools where they are provided with facilities and trained staff to accommodate their needs. Today, there is a shift in government policies towards providing support for equalisation of education opportunity, embodying UNESCO's Salamanca World Statement which considers "Inclusion and participation [as] essential to human dignity [...] enjoyment and exercise of human rights" (UNESCO 1994). This shift underlines the national agenda for integrating more visually impaired children in mainstream schools and reducing exclusion, which is often the result of unmet special needs.

According to a recent report by the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), approximately 70 per cent of visually impaired children in the UK are educated in mainstream settings. This often takes the form of one or two learners in a class of fully sighted peers. Issues related to how best to modify learning materials as well as how to manage group work to nurture an adequate learning environment for all is challenging in such settings. For instance, a number of curriculum standards of core components in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) emphasise the importance of graphic literacy to establish a foundation for future practices. Teachers in mainstream schools therefore have to resort to modifying curriculum resources that include graphics to make them accessible to visually impaired learners by using physical tools such as Braille, tactile diagrams or heat-raised images. However, these tools are designed to be used by visually impaired learners alone and not by their sighted peers, and thus can end up forcing them to learn as isolated individuals and exclude from group learning activities. In addition, as classrooms become more computerised, visually impaired learners are likely to face with more barriers since they mostly rely on screen-readers to access computers and these can be inadequate for accessing graphics and can inhibit meaningful collaboration with sighted peers. If not carefully studied and designed, technology can have detrimental effects on the inclusion of visually impaired learners in mainstream schools, particularly in contexts where they interact with sighted peers, and can lead to drastic effects on their lives as adults. For instance, jobs that require data analysis, including careers in STEM, often encode information using graphics and require teamwork and collaboration. Learning how to interpret and construct graphics as well as how to effectively engage with peers should, and generally does, begin during a student's basic education.

The underlying problem is that current technological support for learning in mixed classrooms emphasise accessibility over inclusion, targeting individual rather than social learning and group work. Focus is thus placed on an individual's disability and not on the variety of abilities present in a social context of group learning involving students, teachers and technology.

The aim of this Early Career fellowship is to research and develop interactive learning tools to make mixed classrooms more inclusive of visually impaired students. Non-visual modalities (e.g. audio, gestures, haptic and tactile feedback) have already shown potential benefit to support accessible interactions, but there are still limitations in their applicability in real world settings, such as issues with cross-modal effects when groups work together using different senses. The developed tools will focus on gaps in technological support for accommodating national curriculum standards by combining participatory design activities with empirical research into cross-modal interaction to find out how different senses can be integrated with visual capabilities. The tools will be validated in classroom settings to find out how they can improve group learning activities and teaching practices.

Planned Impact

The outcomes of the project will increase the inclusion of students with visual impairments in mixed classrooms. Students and teachers taking part in the various design activities and studies during the course of the project will feel immediate impact through exposure to new technologies for inclusive collaboration. I will achieve this by involving the Sensory Support Services and the King's Copse Primary School when recruiting participants, as well as existing links with other user groups and bodies such as the RNIB to disseminate the work to the educational sector. Findings from this research will provide practical examples of how it will impact teaching practices and group learning activities. In the near term this impact will be felt by increased inclusion in mainstream schools, and in the medium term findings from this project will impact teams working with collaborative tools in a range of domains. The user-centred approach used in this fellowship will help raise awareness of the conducted research through inclusion of target user groups in research and design activities. I will also raise awareness through publicity in national and international specialist and mainstream media.

In the long term the project will have social and economic benefit to the UK, as it will allow a wider range of people to engage in collaborative work. It will also benefit the general populace with the design of more effective cross-modal collaboration support for situations when modalities are restricted (e.g. distributed and mobile teamwork). Additionally, it will contribute to making the UK an example of best practice for inclusion in education and teamwork. The UK commercial sector will benefit from this research through the advancement of knowledge in collaborative technologies. Moreover, the software developed in this project will help improve the UK's position in the assistive technology market by opening up the collaboration domain. Furthermore, by increasing inclusion in collaborative work, there will be an increase in the efficiency of teamwork, and increased dissemination and sharing of knowledge. In order to achieve this, the deliverable software tools will be made available to UK companies and organizations free of charge through an open source license. Furthermore, experience in building cross-modal systems will be made publicly available through the open source community and academic papers which will provide the commercial and educational sectors with case studies of how to undertake such development. I will raise awareness of the developed software tools through public exhibitions and media channels.

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
EP/N00616X/1 01/02/2016 01/03/2016 £716,108
EP/N00616X/2 Transfer EP/N00616X/1 02/03/2016 01/02/2021 £706,195
 
Description Findings from ethnographic and qualitative studies - involving local authorities support services and a number of mainstream schools that include pupils with visual impairments - are helping to characterise the various conceptual and practical aspects of inclusion as viewed by support practitioners, teachers and pupils; i.e. providing answers to the question: what are the social, organisational, pedagogical, environmental and interactional elements that contribute to a rounded picture of what constitutes inclusion of visually-impaired pupils in mainstream schools. These key findings are contributing to meeting the first main objective of this project.
Exploitation Route These findings can be used to drive the design and development of technological and practical support for inclusion of pupils with visual impairments in mainstream schools. In the context of this project, these initial findings will be used to focus folow-up participatory design activities involving end users (support services practitioners, teachers and pupils) to create conceptual designs for a variety of crossmodal interactive technologies. These designs will thus embody end users' views and perspective on inclusion and how it can be improved in mainstream schools.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education
 
Description Emersons Green Primary School 
Organisation Emersons Green Primary School
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have visited the school, coordinated with the school's Special Education Needs Coordinator to organise discussions with staff and pupils regarding their potential involvement in the development of accessibility technology to support visually impaired children during group work
Collaborator Contribution The school has provided us with access to their staff and pupils who are currently taking part in an on going ethnographic study involving observations of teaching sessions, and interviews with teachers, staff and pupils. Future activities will also involve design workshop and technology evaluation sessions
Impact We were able to run an ethnographic study at this school (on going), which is helping us develop a rounded picture of the inclusion of visually impaired children in mainstream schools. This feeds directly into the process of designing technology to support inclusive learning and teaching practices
Start Year 2016
 
Description John Hampden Primary School 
Organisation John Hampden Primary School
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We are currently in contact with this school, coordinating with the school's Special Education Needs Coordinator to organise discussions with staff and pupils regarding their potential involvement in the development of accessibility technology to support visually impaired children during group work
Collaborator Contribution The school will provide us with access to their staff and pupils who will take part in an on going ethnographic study involving observations of teaching sessions, and interviews with teachers, staff and pupils. Future activities will also involve design workshop and technology evaluation sessions
Impact none yet
Start Year 2017
 
Description Oxford Spires Academy 
Organisation Oxford Spires Academy
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have visited the school, coordinated with the school's Special Education Needs Coordinator to organise discussions with staff and pupils regarding their potential involvement in the development of accessibility technology to support visually impaired children during group work
Collaborator Contribution The school has provided us with access to their staff and pupils who are currently taking part in an on going ethnographic study involving observations of teaching sessions, and interviews with teachers, staff and pupils. Future activities will also involve design workshop and technology evaluation sessions
Impact We were able to run an ethnographic study at this school (on going), which is helping us develop a rounded picture of the inclusion of visually impaired children in mainstream schools. This feeds directly into the process of designing technology to support inclusive learning and teaching practices
Start Year 2017
 
Description SEN Support Services Oxford 
Organisation Special Educational Needs Support Services
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The Special Educational Need Support Service, is part of Oxford City Council, is a service providing support for children with sensory impairments in mainstream and specialised schools. Our contributions to this partnership is two folds: 1) We provide relevant staff (Qualified Teachers for Visual Impairments) with opportunities to be involved in the design and evaluation of novel technologies for visually impaired users 2) We contribute activities (e.g. technology demonstrations, training workshops for staff) to public events organised by the sensory consortium service
Collaborator Contribution They make contributions to the research project in two ways: 1) Provide access to their staff who are Qualified Teachers for Visual Impairment who contribute as study participants 2) They provide contacts with local mainstream schools who then contribute to the research project also as partners and provide access to teachers, teaching assistants and pupils who contribute as study participants
Impact - Staff from the SEN Support Services have taken part in an ethnographic scoping study - We have identified four schools through the service, and established a partnership with that school (where we are now conducting further ethnographic field studies with staff, teachers, and pupils)
Start Year 2016
 
Description Sensory Consortium Service Berkshire 
Organisation Berkshire Sensory Consortium Service
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The Sensory Consortium Service Berkshire, part of the Berkshire Council, is a service providing support for children with sensory impairments in mainstream and specialised schools. Our contributions to this partnership is two folds: 1) We provide relevant staff (Qualified Teachers for Visual Impairments) with opportunities to be involved in the design and evaluation of novel technologies for visually impaired users 2) We contribute activities (e.g. technology demonstrations, training workshops for staff) to public events organised by the sensory consortium service
Collaborator Contribution They make contributions to the research project in two ways: 1) Provide access to their staff who are Qualified Teachers for Visual Impairment who contribute as study participants 2) They provide contacts with local mainstream schools who then contribute to the research project also as partners and provide access to teachers, teaching assistants and pupils who contribute as study participants
Impact - Staff from the Sensory Consortium Services have taken part in an ethnographic scoping study - We have identified one school through the service so far, and established a partnership with that school (where we are now conducting further ethnographic field studies with staff, teachers, and pupils)
Start Year 2016
 
Description Sensory Support Service Bristol 
Organisation Sensory Support Service
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The Sensory Support Service, part of the Bristol City Council, is a service providing support for children with sensory impairments in mainstream and specialised schools, covering four councils in the Southwest of England. Our contributions to this partnership is two folds: 1) We provide relevant staff (Qualified Teachers for Visual Impairments) with opportunities to be involved in the design and evaluation of novel technologies for visually impaired users; 2) We contribute activities (e.g. technology demonstrations, training workshops) to public events organised by the sensory support service
Collaborator Contribution They make contributions to the research project in two ways: 1) Provide access to their staff who are Qualified Teachers for Visual Impairment who contribute as study participants 2) They provide contacts with local mainstream schools who then contribute to the research project also as partners and provide access to teachers, teaching assistants and pupils who contribute as study participants
Impact - Staff from the Sensory Support Services have taken part in a scoping study - We are organising a joint event this summer to demonstrate accessibility technology for visually impaired children and their parents - We have identified two schools through this service, and established partnerships with them (where we are now conducting ethnographic field studies with staff, teachers, and pupils)
Start Year 2016
 
Description The Emmbrook School Reading 
Organisation The Emmbrook School
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have visited the school, coordinated with the school's Special Education Needs Coordinator to organise discussions with staff and pupils regarding their potential involvement in the development of accessibility technology to support visually impaired children during group work
Collaborator Contribution The school has provided us with access to their staff and pupils who are currently taking part in an on going ethnographic study involving observations of teaching sessions, and interviews with teachers, staff and pupils. Future activities will also involve design workshop and technology evaluation sessions
Impact We were able to run an ethnographic study at this school (on going), which is helping us develop a rounded picture of the inclusion of visually impaired children in mainstream schools. This feeds directly into the process of designing technology to support inclusive learning and teaching practices
Start Year 2017
 
Description School visit 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Part of the research activities associated with this grant is to engage with local schools to conduct ethnographic studies, technology design activities, and evaluations. So far, we have visited four schools; one primary and three secondary. In all cases the visit included discussions with staff and pupils about the research activities, which often led to extreme interest from the staff and pupils in being involved in the project, and led to the planning of a number of follow up activities, including organising technology design activities and workshops
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017