Education Case Studies
Alternative formats come in as many shapes and sizes as there are people to use them. The title alone, “alternative format,” could give the impression that all are equal and equally accessible, but this not the entire truth. As explained by Dann Berkowitz, Assistant Director of Boston University’s Office of Disability Services, most alternative formats are not fully accessible. Many alternative formats are not easily navigable, and with computers taking over the accessible trend, Berkowitz must always explain “Digital does not mean accessible.”
“I’ve been doing alt format stuff for over a decade now, from cassette tapes, to talking pdfs, to Wynn, and they all have their place and they all have their students dedicated to them, but DAISY is the ultimate,” says Berkowitz. “This is because its not proprietary to any company. DAISY is an international standard outside of any company and the companies have to create the software to publish the DAISY books. The software has to be fluid and flexible as DAISY was meant to be.”
DAISY books can contain synchronized text and speech navigable via headings, pages, footnotes, and bookmarks. These books can be read as easily as any other text, and they can also be “marked up” like any other book. Some DAISY readers, such as the Dolphin EasyReader, give the reader the ability to write-in, or talk-in, notes called bookmarks to mark specific passages in their text, and then navigate back to them later. DAISY users will continue to experience new and better versions of DAISY materials as the industry competes to grow with rising standards in accommodations.
The National Library for the Blind (NLB) recently completed a four month project, to evaluate the benefits of offering full text and audio DAISY books to their members. Over 400 blind and visually impaired members signed up for the project. Each participant received a free copy of Dolphin’s EasyReader DAISY player and a selection of twenty synthetically-voiced, full text and audio DAISY books.
A DAISY book (Digital Accessible Information System), is a form of electronic book which brings together a number of different formats (text, audio and pictures) into a single accessible, navigable digital talking book. It contains all of the features of an audio book with the added benefits of full text, allowing navigation, search and find features and the ability to add bookmarks and footnotes. DAISY books can be played on PCs using a software player, such as Dolphin’s EasyReader or using hardware players and stereo equipment that supports MP3 output. All of the twenty titles used in the trial were created using Dolphin’s latest Publisher content creation software, and each of the project members was issued with a copy of Dolphin’s EasyReader software player, for playing the books.
What did the people think?
The overwhelming response was very positive. 84% stated that they found the DAISY books very useful and over 80% found the ability to navigate through the books extremely beneficial. Nearly 90% of people liked the ability to alter the reading speed of the books and over 70% also enjoyed being able to search the text in the book; features only available with DAISY books. Most people were satisfied with the use of a speech synthesiser to create the audio within the book and appreciated that using this method, DAISY books could be created more quickly for members.
86% of those people involved in the trial want NLB to continue creating and offering DAISY books in the future!
What did the participants say?
“I would be happy to listen to any voice that saved me having to scan in thousands of pages.”
“I would really like to see this work, as it has great potential especially for educational material. The combined text and audio would be great for textbooks.”
Commenting on the conclusions of the DAISY project, Sarah Home, Daisy Project Manager from the NLB said “The results have been astonishing. Everyone at NLB believed that there were significant benefits associated with DAISY digital talking books, however, we were not sure how well these would be recognised by our members. It is clear that DAISY books offer a way forward for total inclusion, and by using speech synthesisers, blind and low vision readers are able to enjoy more books, more quickly. The trial has been a resounding success, so much so that we plan to extend our DAISY book service. NLB will be working with Dolphin and the RNIB to bring greater levels of accessibility to our members through the expansion of our DAISY book service in the future.”
Steve Palmer Dolphin CEO comments “It is great that the benefits of DAISY books were recognised through this trial, it also gave everyone involved plenty of high quality user feedback. Dolphin is pleased to partner NLB and the RNIB in the future expansion of the DAISY book service offered by NLB. This additional service will offer their members more choices in the type of accessible information they wish to receive.”
New course materials enhance learning, improve comprehension and create total inclusion in the classroom - and it doesn’t stop there!
Can the DAISY format, a means of delivering books digitally that can incorporate text, audio and images on a single multimedia CD, open up the world of books and course content for students with visual and print impairment?
That is one of the questions the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) wanted to find out when they embarked on a pioneering trial to introduce DAISY revision materials and workbooks into an inclusive classroom environment. Secondly, would these materials, produced in the DAISY format, enhance the pupil’s study enjoyment and motivation?
Typically, a DAISY book is a combination of synchronised text, images and audio: as the audio is played, the corresponding text is highlighted and accompanied by supporting images. DAISY content can be delivered on CD-ROM, downloaded from the Internet or played over a network, using a variety of hardware and computer software players.
The DAISY format is believed to be ideal for reference materials and learning resources because it allows full search and navigation capabilities, and the inclusion of audio means that visually impaired pupils can understand the graphical and pictorial content contained within these texts.
Traditionally, visually impaired and print impaired pupils work with a variety of formats including Braille, large print and audio recordings, as an aid to learning and revision. These formats are not without their limitations - Braille and large print documents are by their nature rather cumbersome to store and handle and are also only two-dimensional. Producing more dynamic content in the DAISY format means that richer, more complex materials can be made available, that can be easily integrated into existing study methods. DAISY versions of the study materials provided an all-inclusive resource, used by the whole class together as well as their teachers.
Early in 2004, the RNIB began the project with the main objective of identifying the relevance, challenges and working practices involved, in implementing DAISY books into the classroom. The trial in this instance involved pupils with sight difficulties within secondary schools and who were also participating in the DfES (Department for Education and Skills) small programmes funded Key Stage 3 multimedia project. The main focus of research was to determine:
- The student’s response to the “added value” provided by DAISY course materials.
- How students used the materials and the benefits over the previous methods.
- Improvements in motivation and self esteem.
- Would the student’s enjoyment of studying be enhanced by DAISY?
The trial was to be conducted on pupils studying Key Stage 3 literacy (11 to 14 year olds) in three secondary schools over the course of 12 months, after which time, questionnaires would be given to the participating students and teachers to gauge the success of the trial.
To conduct the trial, existing course materials needed to be produced in the DAISY format as well as providing the means to playback the materials.
To create the materials in the DAISY format, the RNIB used Dolphin Publisher from Dolphin Audio Publishing.
A total of seven books were identified to support KS3 literacy studies as follows:
- Buddy, by Nigel Hinton, published by Heinemann
- Macbeth, by William Shakespeare, Cambridge Schools Edition
- AQA Fiction Anthology (English A, 2004), published by AQA
- AQA Poetry Anthology (English B, Best Words, 2004), published by AQA
- Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
- Face, by Benjamin Zephaniah
- Stories Old and New: Contrasts From Two Centuries, by various authors, published by Longman Imprint Books (1997)
Rather than having to create separate books for the main content, for course notes, exercises and revision, using Dolphin Publisher, it was possible to re-structure the total content so that all materials were contained in one, easy to use DAISY book. A typical example of one of these books would start with course notes explaining the subject matter to pupils followed by assignments and exercises based on the subsequent passage or chapter for the pupil to work from. Dolphin Publisher allowed the navigation structure and the layout of the books to be tailored exactly to suit these requirements.
With the content created, the RNIB also needed a flexible and easy to use delivery mechanism for the DAISY books. For this they chose EasyReader, also from Dolphin, a software reader that delivers synchronised audio, text and images. The user interface and user controls are laid out logically and are simple to use and are aesthetically appealing.
Flexible, efficient and comfortable
The pupils and the teachers felt very comfortable using the new DAISY course materials and EasyReader players. Pupils were delighted with the easy to use navigation controls within EasyReader. Feedback from students showed that the ability to skim and scan the text and increase playback speeds were extremely beneficial. This was something that was not possible to do using alternative formats demonstrating the versatility of the DAISY format.
Ultimately, the student’s felt that DAISY allowed more to be done in the available study periods than ever before.
‘T’, one of the students involved in the pilot, said that; “using the DAISY books made reading a lot easier.” Her reading speeds had considerably improved as she was now able to skim read and could adjust the playback speeds to suit her own requirements.
The teachers also noted that the pupils posture was improved using EasyReader with large text style sheets as opposed to traditional low vision aids. Prior to using EasyReader, often pupils would sit in very cramped and awkward positions in order to read the text. As a result, the books delivered in EasyReader were less tiring to read and student concentration was enhanced.
Will Pearson of RNIB commented “Students are now in more control over how a book is used, how it looks, where it is used, and even why it is used”.
An all-inclusive format
How the teachers and fully sighted pupils used the book was different and this supported the concept of one book being used at different levels in a way that suits the individual user. Most of the students stated that the rest of the class also enjoyed the DAISY books, and this resulted in some of the visually impaired pupils feeling much happier in their studies as they generally did not like to distinguish themselves from their peers in terms of access.
Another student named ‘D’ commented; “The variety of colour schemes available meant less eye strain compared with trying to read a text book. It was simple to change style sheets and colour schemes.”
“If ever there was an active embodiment of inclusive practice, this could be it.” said Will, who then continued, “DAISY is a positive rebuttal of the “special” connotation given to adapted materials”.
Improvements over traditional formats
So how did the new DAISY books compare in the pupils minds compared to existing Braille and large print study materials? The response to this was overwhelming. Because of the freedom of navigation and logical structuring of the DAISY books, it was felt that the DAISY books considerably improved cross-referencing between the text and the revision notes. It was also noted that the DAISY books improved reading speeds, as long text strings and words needed less time for visual decoding due to the supporting audio.
Another student named ‘K’, added that the choice of different style sheets and settings had helped his over all reading skills and improved his comprehension and English language.
Some pupils also reported that dramatic sound effects to accompany the text particularly stood out and enhanced both their study enjoyment and also recollection of key parts of the texts.
Images and diagrams, often an invaluable element of course materials, were considerably enhanced by the addition of audio descriptions. This meant that for the first time, images could be accurately described using both written and auditory descriptions.
In general, there was a significant improvement not only in the reading skills of the students involved but also their comprehension and memory recall. Many of the students involved in the trial reported that the rest of the class also enjoyed the DAISY books, despite having no visual or print impairment. The combination of text, audio and images provided an enhanced learning experience.
This trial has again demonstrated the power and potential of the DAISY format to aid and improve learning, not only amongst visually and print impaired students, but also across the class as a whole.
On the outcome of the pilot scheme, Will Pearson commented “The project succeeded on many levels, expertise was gained in DAISY production as well as the teacher and student benefits of this format. The students received an intrinsically more useful learning experience”. Will then continued “DAISY digital books have started to unlock potential and levels of interaction that should be explored and expanded upon so that valuable momentum cascades out”.
As well as in the classroom, publishers of educational reference materials need to take notice of the power of the DAISY format as an alternative to traditional print books. As awareness from teachers and students increases, so will demand for such all-inclusive resources. Publishers should take special note of the fact that the release of Dolphin Publisher now means that copyright protection is resolved using DAISY’s Intellectual Property Protection (IPP).
NB. This article details exact situations and findings, however, the children's names have been changed to protect their right to privacy.
Dolphin and the RNIB pilot DAISY materials in schools.
(An extract taken with permission from the Dolphin Computer Access Website)
The RNIB and Dolphin recently collaborated on a pilot scheme to introduce a new all-inclusive learning and revision resource into the classroom. The pilot involved pupils with sight difficulties and dyslexia, within mainstream secondary schools. The trial involved pupils studying Key Stage 3 literacy (11 to 14 year olds) in three secondary schools over the course of 12 months.
The project involved using Dolphin Audio Publishing's unique software solutions to introduce Digital Talking Books to students with a visual impairment or print impairment, at three schools in the UK. The DAISY books allow visually impaired and print impaired readers to skim read and navigate a talking book in the same way that a fully sighted reader may read a printed book. Typically, a DAISY book is a combination of synchronised text, images and audio whereby, as the audio is played, the corresponding text is highlighted and accompanied by supporting images. It is a perfect format for reference materials and learning resources for the whole class, regardless of ability to read or access the printed word.
Dolphin provided authoring software called Publisher to convert existing course materials into DAISY books and playback software called EasyReader was to be used by the students to play the content. "Our choice of Dolphin as a partner for this pilot scheme was a very easy one to make. Dolphin is a world leader in the development of DAISY software solutions and an organisation we knew we could rely upon," said Will Pearson Pre-16 Technology Officer, RNIB and chief coordinator of the project.
Feedback from the students and teachers involved in the trial was very positive towards this exciting new resource. Prior to using EasyReader and the DAISY books, low vision students had to rely on cumbersome large print or Braille documents. EasyReader allowed the application of colour schemes and display styles specific to the individual's need. This made studying much more fulfilling and comfortable and as a result, the DAISY books played using EasyReader were less tiring to read and student concentration was enhanced. Will Pearson commented "Students are now in more control over how a book is used, how it looks, where it is used, and even why it is used".
In general, there was a significant improvement not only in the reading skills of the students involved but also their comprehension and memory recall. Many of the students involved in the trial reported that the rest of the class also enjoyed the DAISY books, despite having no visual or print impairment. The combination of text, audio and images provided an enhanced learning experience. "If ever there was an active embodiment of inclusive practice, this could be it." said Will, who then continued, "DAISY is a positive rebuttal of the 'special' connotation given to adapted materials". Will then concludes, "The project succeeded on many levels, expertise was gained in DAISY production as well as the teacher and student benefits of this format. The students received an intrinsically more useful learning experience".
University of Oxford become pioneer in the conversion of analogue to digital audio
Since the mid-1980s a dedicated service has been making the millions of tomes in the Bodleian Library more accessible to readers who are blind or partially sighted so they can work and study independently at Oxford. Now Oxford University Resources for the Blind is leading the way by piloting a new computer -aided technology which should make studying even easier.
The University is one of the first centres in the country to explore the use of a Digital Audio Information System. This allows blind and partially sighted students and academics to pinpoint the exact chapter, page or even reference they need -just as other readers take for granted. Entire books (up to 22 hours of recorded material) can be stored on just one CD-ROM which the user can navigate their way round at the click of a mouse button.
As well as producing high-quality sound, the new system will eventually enable digital material to be sent direct to the user electronically, or allow information to be sent down a telephone line to the University's Computing Service to be turned into Braille. Resources for the Blind is now looking for computer-literate volunteers who can help edit and store the recordings on CD-ROM as this service expands. The Royal National Institute for the Blind is already interested in the advances being made at Oxford in this area, and will store the CD-ROMs at its national library for future use by scholars nationwide.
Kim Miller, Director of Resources for the Blind, said: 'Most blind students and academics use emails and computers every day. This technology will give them the freedom to navigate books, to pick and choose how much or little they listen to, making it a more useful resource and one which I'm sure will revolutionise the way they work.'
Resources for the Blind has been obtaining books on tape-either from existing stocks at the RNIB library or tailor-making new tapes-from its base in the New Bodleian for almost two decades. However, the cornerstone of its activities, the Recording Centre, recently moved to new accommodation at Ewert House, Summertown where three purpose-built recording suites have been installed (pictured).
The service, which produces around 80 hours worth of new recordings each week, would not be able to function without its dedicated team of over 90 volunteer readers. Kim said: 'Our volunteers tackle texts-whatever the subject, language, or however inaccessible they might appear-with amazing enthusiasm and commitment. Many of our readers are highly skilled in particular subject areas, or are former academics themselves. They bring a great deal of expertise to the service, and they do all this without payment, not even expenses.'
In addition to the eight regular users of the service across the University, Resources for the Blind is able to help around another 10 or more occasional users, and also provides-when resources allow-assistance for any holder of a current Bodleian Library card.
A recent sponsorship deal with Lincoln Financial Group means the Centre now has some of the latest hi-tech equipment on the market including two Kurzweil Readers (one an easy-to-use machine which scans text and reads it aloud to the listener, the other linked through a computer to provide either audio information or enlarged print on a monitor), and a colour closed circuit television for those with residual vision.