Creating Barrier-Free, Broadband Learning Environments

Final Report

The Tools

The Authoring Tool provides educators and content developers with a simple user interface for customizing the learning content and combining learning objects from the repository. Figure 2 provides a view of that interface.

Figure 2: Authoring Tool user interface

The Player provides learners with a way of customizing the educational experience to meet their own individual needs and preferences. Figure 3 shows a view of the Player user interface.

Figure 3. Player user interface

The Preferences system allows learners to define their own personal preferences for the display of the content. These preferences include both the selection of the content they wish to access, and how that content is presented. Figure 4 shows the user interface dialog used to configure the learner preferences.

Figure 4. Preferences interface

The learning object repository stores the learning resources created by the Authoring Tool and accessed by the Player. The Authoring Tool interfaces directly with the Repository, allowing content creators to search the Repository for content that matches desired criteria. Figure 5 illustrates the simple search interface.

Figure 5: Repository search interface

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E-learning Program Criteria

Technological Innovation in Education and Training

Prior to the Barrierfree project there were no on-line learning environments with rich media that were accessible to people with disabilities. The Barrierfree project models inclusion of the full range of learners. The project has developed tools that allow educators to make video content both interactive and accessible. It has created a repository design and data structures that allow learning content to be re-purposed, and transformed according to the needs of the learner. This goes well beyond other learning object repository services. The Barrierfree project demonstrates innovative teaching approaches that were not possible in traditional educational environments. It does not simply replicate traditional educational environments. The new data structures are being incorporated into international e-learning interoperability specifications.

Use of Broadband Technology

The Barrierfree project models functionality that requires broadband networks and highlights the advantages of broadband. The educational content addressed is video. Rather than a single stream of video the project uses multiple layers of video and audio that must be closely synchronized. The server must be responsive to the learner and reassemble learning objects on the fly according to the needs of the learner. All of these functions require broadband. Because not all participants in the Barrierfree project had access to broadband during the project, local servers were set up with captive networks which simulated broadband.

Addressing Structural Barriers

The primary structural barrier addressed by the Barrierfree project was the digital divide created by the lack of accessibility of our educational systems for people with disabilities. The social and economic impact of this barrier is significant. At least 15% of learners in Canada have a disability. Exclusion of this group of Canadians from educational opportunities puts untenable strains on our social safety net and deprives us of the valuable contributions these learners can make to our economic and social well being. Many of Canada’s trading partners have recognized the need for inclusive technologies and will not purchase our exports unless they are accessible. The Barrierfree project models products that meet accessibility requirements and are used as models of best practice by international trading partners.

 

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