Special reads

13th June 2003 at 01:00
Will Pearson salutes Daisy, a multimedialiteracy solution for SEN pupils

There is now an unparalleled level of interaction across specialist fields to support special educational needs (SEN) pupils. And with new forms of discourse between academic researchers, software developers, schools and LEAs, celebrating achievement becomes more attainable.

The Department for Education and Skills' (DfES) Small Programmes Fund is supporting the Royal National institute for the Blind in a project to bring Daisy (Digital Accessible Information System) digital talking books to students who have disabilities with print, particularly those with a visual impairment. Daisy is a standard for digital talking books that uses HTML and SMIL web mark-up languages to create accessible, navigable multimedia and it shows how inclusive design and multimodal learning allow better access to the curriculum.

The DfES has funded a year-long project to examine how, at key stage 3, Daisy can work at the heart of a class; how the smooth navigation, intuitive structure and multiple ways of displaying books enhance learning.

With a website to showcase results and a British Educational and Communications Technology Agency National Grid for Learning forum, the stage will be set for the technology's wider take-up.

In the book Enabling Technology for Inclusion edited by Mike Blamires of Canterbury Christ Church University College, the case is made for better software design and ICT use. One chapter shows how "inauthentic labour", focusing too much on one area of activity such as finding a page in a book or preparing writing tools, still features in the work of pupils with print disabilities, those with dyslexia and visual impairment for example. ICT has its own inauthentic tasks, but advanced mark-up language for controlling and co-ordinating multimedia presentations can create an inclusive tool. This is where Daisy succeeds, creating accessible, synchronised content with speech, text and images.

Daisy uses SMIL (Synchronised Multimedia Integration Language) to create the synchronisation link between media formats. The digital talking book content is created using AudioPublisher and can be accessed quickly with hardware players or with Dolphin's EaseReader software player to deliver multimedia-rich output through a PC or laptop.

Content in this format is open to all since it offers multiple forms of representation in an accessible and navigable format. It can display visual elements at various sizes and in various colour combinations and fonts and provides highlighting options. It can navigate by phrase, heading or page and allows the use of bookmarks and footnotes. It also lets users output to a Braille display with a screenreader and there is a facility for adapting hard copies of books by teaching staff. Daisy also uses digitally recorded speech, sound files, text and images to offer a learner new options for engagement and motivation.

This is a system that has less potential for what Blamires calls "target drift", where superficial aspects of ICT use can mask the true liberating and enabling dimensions.

Will Pearson is ICT development officer (pre-16) at the Royal National Institute of the Blind www.rnib.org.uktechnology; www.dolphinse.com; www.daisy.org

THIS IS POUNDS OW YOU DO IT...

In Winning Research Funding academic publishing adviser Abby Day Peters tackles the big questions of research: which funding organisations are likely to be sympathetic to your cause and how best to put forward your case? Peters answers these and suggests ways researchers can develop a working relationship with funding partners. The solutions, says Professor Peter Nolan of Leeds University, are "plausible and innovative" and the book is "invaluable" for all researchers.

Winning Research Funding, pound;25, Gower Publishing, Tel: 01252 368522 email: swhite@gowerpub.com

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