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USING DIGITAL TALKING BOOKS IN SCHOOLS: RFB&D'S TIIAP PROJECT

by Steve Noble
Manager, Product Development
Phone: (609) 243-7094
Email: snoble@rfbd.org 

Kathie Korpolinski, Director of Marketing
Phone: 609/520-7095
Email: kkorpolinski@rfbd.org 
Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic
20 Roszel Road
Princeton, NJ 08540


The U.S. Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) awarded RFB&D a Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program (TIIAP) grant to study the utility of DAISY Digital Talking Books (DTBs)as a means of delivering accessible educational information to blind, visually impaired, and learning disabled students. RFB&D's TIIAP Project will include the delivery of DTBs in a network environment of five local and diverse education sites, as well as using stand-alone PCs and Victor and PlexTalk DTB players. This project will generate valuable user feedback from schools and students both to gauge the accessibility of information achieved in the DTB format as well as determining the print-disabled community's level of accessibility, usability and connectivity to the national information infrastructure.

You can visit the RFB&D web site at:

http://www.rfbd.org

Statement of Purpose

RFB&D's TIIAP Project is an integral part of RFB&D's market research activities designed to gather useful data from our consumers which will be used to design the next-generation accessible textbook. This project will directly aid RFB&D in its ongoing efforts to improve access to textbooks for students with disabilities.

Project Mission

RFB&D's TIIAP Project is designed to study the use of digital textbooks in a live learning environment. This project will garner valuable information from student participants who will be using our texts in a variety of Digital Talking Book (DTB) formats and delivered in various modes. This data will be compiled and then be channeled back to RFB&D to assist with continuing development of the digital audio program.

Project Goals

  1. GOAL: Determining the value and capabilities of various digital technologies to deliver accessible educational materials The TIIAP project will test the utility of the Digital Talking Book as an accessible textbook. This new technology may ultimately aid in the education of hundreds of thousands of students across the country who have print-related disabilities.
  2. GOAL: Generating user feedback on our new digital textbooks This project will generate vital feedback that will help us in designing the next-generation audio textbook. Information from participants will be used to correct problems in these new digital textbooks and will be fed back into our production process.
  3. GOAL: Exploring the delivery of digital textbooks in a network environment This project will explore the technological complexities involved in the delivery of educational materials in a network environment. As part of an ongoing analysis of connectivity issues throughout this project we will be able to identify the essential elements and minimum requirements necessary to make such an educational delivery system function.

Key Concepts

Some of the specific concepts central to this project include:

Project Deliverables

Both statistical and anecdotal data will be collected from participants by way of written questionnaires, personal interviews and participant focus groups regarding the accessibility and usability of digital textbooks. Besides generating ongoing data which will be fed back to the RFB&D Digital Audio research and development program, the following final documents will be created based on project results:

School Test Sites

The Schools taking part in this testing represent a great deal of diversity. They include:

  1. Arizona State University (Tempe, AZ) ASU is a large university (40,000+ students) with a large disability resource staff and a significant population of students with disabilities;
  2. University of Montana (Missoula, MT) U-of-M is a smaller university (12,000+ students) located in a small population center;
  3. Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (Austin, TX) TSBVI is one of the largest residential schools for blind and visually-impaired students in the country;
  4. Henry M. Gunn High School (Palo Alto, CA) The Gunn High School is one of the first of California's "Digital High Schools" and is located in the affluent "Silicon Valley" area;
  5. North Dade Middle School (Miami, FL) North Dade is a large inner-city school in an economically depressed area of Miami.

Digital Talking Book Formats

The TIIAP project will utilize and test books in three different DAISY formatted book options. They include structured full-text-full-audio, structured full-audio, and structured full-text.

Structured full-text-full-audio is made of a combination of audio and text files structured using the Hyper-Text Markup Language (HTML) based on the DAISY Document Type Definition (DTD). Use of the DAISY DTD ensures platform independence and interoperability across the gamut of DAISY playback techniques. The link between the text and the sound file is the use of a coordinating Synchronized Multi-media Integration Language (SMIL) file which keeps track of text and audio and can allow for highlighting words on a screen display as they are played back or starting playback of recorded audio from a specific point in the text. This option will give consumers the greatest utility, but is also the most difficult to create. It is expected that these books will not represent a majority of the titles to be tested.

Structured full-audio, i.e., what we have been calling "table-of-contents" (TOC) books, contains the full audio of the book, but only a structured outline of the written text. The ability to navigate within the text is dependent on the level of structure contained in the outline. This type of book is much easier to create, and is an ideal format for converting our analog library into Digital Talking Books. We expect that a majority of books used in the TIIAP project will be created using an Analog-to-Digital (A-to-D) conversion process.

Structured full-text, i.e., E-text books on CD-ROM using DAISY markup, contains the full written text of the book but no audio. Utilization of this book is dependent on the use of synthetic speech, a large-print screen display, or a refreshable Braille display. We expect only a small portion of our books will be produced in this format for TIIAP testing, but this is an open question.

Playback Technology

Students at the TIIAP school sites will be using our books primarily in one or more of the three following manners:

Conclusion

In the fall of 1999, students at all five schools began using RFB&D's Digital Talking Books for the first time. This presentation at CSUN in March of 2000 will describe the project to date, and detail the directions the project has taken. Subsequent presentations at future CSUN conferences will further describe the results of the study. It is RFB&D's belief that this study will help position the organization to provide accessible books to both local and remote students via the Internet and other digital delivery avenues. The success of such a program will go a long way toward securing access to educational information for students with disabilities.

Don't forget to visit the RFB&D web site at: http://www.rfbd.org

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