Creating learning environments for sightless people poses a significant challenge for content developers, especially when the target group is children. During the whole development process, all stimuli from the visual world have to be suppressed, and innovative approaches need to be found to keep young learners engaged. So how can an exciting learning environment for blind children be created? At OEB 2008, Nicholas Kind from Spark Learning Ltd. gives insights on the development process of a sophisticated online learning resource that not only offers fun and educational benefits for blind children but for the sighted, too.
How can you stimulate sightless children to find interest in writing and reading exercises? Make it engaging and fun! In collaboration with Tinopolis plc, Nicholas Kind, Managing Director of Sparks Learning Limited, created “Benjamin’s House of Wonderful Words”, an online learning resource with reading and writing exercises that can be accessed by blind children between six and eleven years of age.
The British performance poet Benjamin Zephaniah, whose work is already widely used in British classrooms, contributed to the project – thus the resource’s title. In the online course, Benjamin invites the children to discover his house on their own, packed full of interaction. Several objects are placed in the rooms of the house, all of them connected to a text or a poem. In one room, there is a talking spider to discover; in the attic, celebrity poets are waiting for the young visitors; and a Tibetan monk is sitting in the sauna. All texts can be experienced in sound, sound and Braille or Braille only. The texts themselves consist of an educational game like comprehension activities or an interactive alphabet.
The whole learning environment was carefully designed in order to match the special needs of the blind learners. The development team therefore focussed intently on the effective use of sound and not only constantly consulted teachers but also young people from the target group.
An important issue was to keep the balance between rooms and objects that blind kids know from their everyday lives – like a bathroom – and new, exciting experiences like the talking spider. All features of the resource had to be in line with the needs and experiences of a child who can’t rely on visual input. One exciting feature of the project is their approach called “reverse inclusion”: The course was developed for use in classrooms with both sightless and sighted students, and so the learning resources for the visually impaired were made inclusive for the sighted and not the other way around, which is the conventional way.
During the development process, several technical problems were encountered. Blind people rely on Braille displays and embossers – which are printer for Braille letters – to work and learn with the computer. The Braille screens use display cells with tiny dots, which can be raised to display Braille letters. A line of these letters finally becomes a Braille sentence. When creating the content, the developers had to make sure that the communication with the Braille gadgets worked properly, which proved difficult when the learning resource was to be made available in the familiar Flash format.
Nicholas Sparks will share his experience in the development of “Benjamin’s House of Wonderful Words” and talk about the challenges in developing learning resources for the blind. His presentation is part of the session “Creating Content for Specific Needs” on Thursday, December 4th, 14:30 – 17:30.