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Designing E-learning Collaborative Tools for Blind People

The basic principle of e-learning is to achieve personal learning goals by acquiring skills and knowledge through computers or others network-enabled systems. The use of computers and the Internet have changed classic methods of teaching and learning, introducing the concept of distance learning as a great opportunity for studying unfettered by constraints of time and space. Although information and communication systems are helpful for implementing both the learning and teaching processes, e-learning is not merely a trivial way to transfer knowledge using electronic devices (computers, smart phone, mp3 players, etc.) while relying on the network and Web user interfaces. According to the recent concept of third-generation distance learning, the active participation of students in the formative process is an important factor in the personal learning phase (Beard & Wilson, 2002; Kolb, 1984). E-learning is a great opportunity to move from old traditional systems towards more effective and efficient methods for acquiring and transferring knowledge beyond the traditional class environments, adapting to the modern life and new technologies.
In addition, acquisition of new skills and knowledge is not only affected by an individual’s mental schemes or beliefs, but also by their interaction, cooperation and collaboration with others (Merrill, 1991). Communication and social collaboration are crucial for generating the best learning environment. In the learner-centred model, students assume the most important role while teachers investigate and experiment more interesting and interactive ways of teaching. Another important aspect is personalization of rhythms of studying, according to student abilities.
Unfortunately, learning tools and collaborative tools in general are not always designed to be effectively used by blind users, who generally interact via an assistive technology, a screen reader, using a vocal synthesizer and only the keyboard. For instance, collaborative editing of documents could be very difficult or not usable at all for blind users if: 1) they are unaware of other users’ changes; 2) the formatting toolbars and other interactive elements like menus are difficult or impossible to access; 3) the list of documents is not quickly available (Mori et al., 2011).
In this chapter we will analyze e-learning collaborative and alternative tools in the learning environment, following the new paradigm for personalized acquisition of knowledge, in order to suggest basic guidelines for making effective and improving the interaction for blind people. We will present the possibilities and advantages of e-learning, focusing on its challenging opportunities for the blind. We will describe how blind people interact with interfaces using a screen reader with a voice synthesizer (as output modality) in combination with a keyboard (as input device). In addition, we will propose suggestions for improving the design of more effective tools to facilitate collaboration and blind users’ interaction and personalization. Finally, we will supply two examples of the new paradigm of learning: 1) the design of more accessible interfaces of a Web editing collaborative tool, interacting with a screen reader and 2) a Web system to personalize learning by blind students using an mp3 player.
Generally, active participation and collaborative interaction can improve the learning experience, so the full support of screen reader users in e-learning collaborative user interfaces (UIs) could also improve interaction and learning for blind people.


External authors: Barbara Leporini (CNR - ISTI)
IIT authors:

Giulio Mori

Foto di Giulio Mori

Type: Bookchapter in book with an international publisher
Field of reference: Information Technology and Communication Systems
E-Learning / Book 3; ISBN 979-953-307-687-3 http://www.intechopen.com/books/e-learning-long-distance-and-lifelong-perspectives/designing-e-learning-collaborative-tools-for-blind-people
Activity: Accessibility and Usability of User Interfaces