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Accessible and Customizable Educational Videos

Project lead partners, Canadian Learning Television, are the producers of an excellent physics educational video series, which was used by the project as the base material for illustrating the benefits of providing a flexible, customizable and accessible educational experience for learners. Entitled "Physics- A World in Motion", the 48 part series is intended to provide high school students with instruction in the fundamentals of physics. Episode one of the series, entitled "Energy Transformations" has been enhanced with the features available through the newly designed Barrier - Free Authoring Tool and Player to illustrate the benefits of approaching educational videos in this innovative fashion to take advantage of the benefits of broadband to combat learning barriers.

Core Content- Why Physics?

Difficulties for students with disabilities in accessing science related learning materials are numerous. Students who are blind cannot see graphs or illustrations. Imagine listening to a science video in which the on-screen teacher refers to an on-screen equation, but never actually reads out all of the elements of the equation in sequence. Following along with the steps involved in solving such a problem would be close to impossible. Students who are deaf, as the result of English literacy issues also have difficulty with science because of the complex language used in scientific theories. The complex language and mathematical elements of science can also pose a problem for students with learning disabilities. Video content often moves too quickly for a learner with a learning disability, and this difficulty is only compounded when the topic is science, which requires the ongoing application of complex language, logic and math skills.

The Barrier - Free Player and Authoring Tool allow teachers/authors to enhance educational online videos through the addition of:

  • Caption Tracks
  • Audio Descriptions
  • Insertion of Hyperlinks
  • Annotations
  • Non-linear navigational structure

Screen shots of the Barrier - Free Player and Authoring Tool are available.

Caption Tracks:

Video content that is played on the player utilizes the video's caption track as a built-in source of text that can accompany any viewing of a video. For students who are deaf, having the captions available to view is of obvious benefit, but the captions are also beneficial to other students as well.

Students with learning disabilities can read along through the caption track while viewing the video, then pause the video to re-read any sections that may have been confusing. As the style of the caption track can be set by the student, font size, spacing between words, caption box location and colours for text and background can all be set according to the learners preferences.

Teachers can also set preferences for sections of captions they wish to control the presentation of, but in general there is flexibility imparted to the user to arrange the content in a manner which suits their specific learning goals and tastes. Even the presence of the caption track itself is an option. Should the learner benefit more from simply viewing the video, captions can be turned off entirely and not presented.

Finally, students and teachers have the option of choosing between more than one caption track. By using the authoring tool, teachers can author their own caption text to accompany an educational video. Should the teacher have students in the class who require a literacy reduced version of the content in a video, the teacher can author that text using the Barrier - Free Authoring Tool. Students would then select the appropriate track and follow along with it instead of the original caption track for the video. For our demonstration, we have included both a verbatim caption track from the episode "Energy Transformations", as well as a French language version of the captions that students can select between.

Audio Descriptions

Audio descriptions are fitted into the spaces of the standard audio track and act to describe what's happening on-screen for people who are blind. Due to the space limitations imposed by this delivery model, people who are blind are often given insufficient information about onscreen events to be able to follow the content of the video fully.

The Barrier - Free Player has overcome this difficulty by pausing the video automatically whenever an audio description that is longer than the space allotted it occurs. Audio descriptions of this video were developed by project partner the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB). In doing so, the CNIB has broken ground in developing a new model for provision of audio descriptions to users who are blind.

Insertion of Hyperlinks:

Using the caption track, it is possible for teachers to customize any educational video to their own instructional needs by inserting hyperlinks directly into the video. As a student is viewing the video and its accompanying caption track, hyperlinked captions appear. Students, upon encountering such a hyperlink can pause the video, activate the hyperlink and proceed to any web based content their teacher had identified as being relevant to the material being covered. Teachers can include links to educational materials they have developed themselves, or to resources that already exist on the World Wide Web.

This feature allows the ultimate flexibility in applying video based educational content to a specific learning environment as through the hyperlinks selected, teachers can define exactly what they want their students to focus on, and even provide students with localized resources that are directly relevant to their experience.

For example, a teacher Toronto using the "Energy Transformations" episode to teach students about kinetic energy could build into the video a hyperlink from the term "examples of kinetic energy" that connects students to Canada Wonderland's web site. From there students could be asked to work on the problem of determining the kinetic energy produced on a roller coaster most, because of the park's proximity to Toronto, would have actually ridden on. A teacher in Edmonton may use hyperlinks to construct the same kind of real-life kinetic energy problem, but would direct her hyperlink instead to the web site for West Edmonton Mall's Galaxyland theme park.

Of course, localizing the information in a video is only one possible way of using a hyperlink feature. Teachers may also choose to link to educational supports, class web pages, definitions for words or bulletin boards too.

In order to ensure the accessibility of the hyperlinks to all learners, students can set a user preference in the player that allows them to hear an audio tone played whenever a hyperlink is available in the captions, and then are able to use a key-board shortcut to activate the link. Students can also display, should they so choose, all of the links in a video in a separate "Link Box" and navigate materials from there.

Links in the sample video developed by the Barrier- Free project team connect to supplementary materials intended to clarify physics concepts, as well as links to resources relevant to physics available on the World Wide Web. Links to examples of these materials are available below:


Annotation are another key feature available in both the Player and Authoring tool enabling customized video materials to meet diverse learning needs. Annotations are short notes that teachers and students can add into the video content. Annotations can serve many purposes including drawing a student's attention to specific parts of the video, providing additional relevant information , or even allowing the student to highlight a section he or she finds particularly helpful.

Non-linear Navigational Structure:

The Barrier- Free Player and Authoring Tool provide the ability to break an educational video up into smaller chunks and allow navigation through the video in a non-linear fashion. For the first time, teachers can direct students to view smaller sections of a video without having to fast forward through an actual videotape. Non-linear navigation of the video allows teachers the flexibility of choosing which parts of the video they would like their students to watch and in what order. It also allows students the ability to jump back and forth between sections of the video that they feel they need repeated viewings of in order to understand. The non-linear structure of the video then becomes something more akin to a text book, that students can flip through at will, but unlike a textbook the video content and it's navigational structure are fully accessible to learners with special needs.


This project is funded by CANARIE Inc. - Learning Program

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