2001 Conference Proceedings

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Distance Learning Projects at NCAM

Geoff Freed
Project Manager, Web Access Project
CPB/WGBH National Center for Accessible Media
WGBH Educational Foundation
125 Western Ave.
Boston, MA 02134
voice: 617 300-4223
fax: 617 300-1035
e-mail: geoff_freed@wgbh.org


The CPB/WGBH National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) is a research and development facility dedicated to the issues of media technology for disabled people in their homes, schools, workplaces, and communities. NCAM's mission is: to expand access to present and future media for people with disabilities; to explore how existing access technologies may benefit other populations; to represent its constituents in industry, policy and legislative circles; and to provide access to educational and media technologies for special needs students.

NCAM is also pioneering the use of accessible media in the classroom through projects which empower students, educate software and hardware developers, design new media access devices and procedures, and in general help assure that disabled students are able to reap the benefits of existing and emerging educational media.

Access to PIVoT Project

NCAM is collaborating with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Center for Advanced Educational Services to make an on-line interactive physics course accessible to students with disabilities. Known as "Access to PIVoT" (Physics Interactive Video Tutor), this project will test, implement, document and promote the development of multimedia access solutions to make distance learning accessible to blind, low-vision, deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

The Access to PIVoT project is built around MIT Professor Walter Lewin's popular introductory physics class. Web-based components include a complete digitized library of Professor Lewin's physics lectures as well as dozens of help sessions, interactive demonstrations and simulations, quizzes and a full on-line textbook. Using the questions provided in an extensive FAQ list, students will be able to choose second- and third-level follow-up questions, invoking appropriately linked video responses by the professor. Students will be able to get even more detailed information by typing in questions and receiving responses from an on-line teaching assisstant.

The goals of the project are to:

  1. enable science-focused high school and college students who are blind, visually impaired, deaf or hard-of-hearing to participate in an innovative and challenging Web-based introductory physics curriculum;

  2. enable the MIT Center for Advanced Educational Services to institutionalize the technical capabilities developed through this project to apply access solutions to a range of future educational products;

  3. provide developers, publishers, and distributors of distance-learning and educational multimedia with recommended practices and an applied demonstration of access-design principles for network-delivered multimedia.
Project activities include the following:

  1. Identify the needs of deaf and blind students in the design of the user interface, navigation systems, and presentation of video, text, illustrations, graphs and tables.

  2. Research, test and evaluate the practical use of current and emerging solutions to provide access for blind or deaf students. Develop and implement a training and production plan to apply solutions to PIVoT.

  3. Develop a set of recommended practices for design and implementation of access solutions in network-delivered educational multimedia. Disseminate recommended practices and publicize Project results.

  4. Building upon NCAM's ongoing research into Web-based multimedia accessibility, the PIVoT project will identify and address the needs of deaf and blind students in the design of user interface, navigation systems, and the presentation of video, text, illustrations, graphs and tables. NCAM will develop and apply cost-effective methods to create captions and audio descriptions for the multimedia, primarily via the use of its Media Access Generator, or MAGpie. Testing and evaluation with disabled and non-disabled users will gauge the effectiveness of results.
NCAM will also use the Access to PIVOT Project to test and interpret existing guidelines and techniques (see the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), as well as to develop a set of recommended practices for other developers.

Funding for Access to PIVoT is provided by the National Science Foundation and by The Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation, a non-profit foundation jointly funded by Mitsubishi Electric Corporation of Japan and its American affiliates with the mission of contributing to a better world for us all by helping young people with disabilities, through technology, to maximize their potential and participation in society.


Developers of Web- and CD-ROM-based multimedia need an authoring application for making their materials accessible to persons with disabilities. NCAM recently developed and released such an application, known as the Media Access Generator (MAGpie). MAGpie is being used extensively in the PIVoT project to add captions to all multimedia lectures and on-line tutorials. Using MAGpie, authors can add captions to three multimedia formats: Apple's QuickTime, the World Wide Web Consortium's Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL, using the RealPlayer) and Microsoft's Synchronized Accessible Media Interchange (SAMI) format. MAGpie can also integrate audio descriptions into SMIL/RealPlayer presentations.

The MAGpie editor allows the user to type in or import text, format it as captions, add color to both the text and background, and make use of multiple fonts and styles. Once text has been entered and formatted, it can be easily timed by playing the digitized video and pressing a single key once per caption to insert the appropriate timecode. The user can review the captioned movie without exiting the application, make any necessary changes directly in the editor and then see these changes immediately. Once the captions have all been timed and reviewed, the user can output the text in three formats: SMIL/RealPlayer, QuickTime and SAMI.

MAGpie version 1.0 is a Windows-only application; however, NCAM recently received funding to redevelop and improve MAGpie. Version 2.0 will incorporate a number of new features, including improved caption-editing capabilities and the ability to record and insert audio-descriptions. MAGpie 2.0 will also be available in a Macintosh version. Release date is expected to be mid-2001.

Initial funding for MAGpie was provided by the Trace Research and Development Center at the University of Wisconsin, as part of its Information Technology Access Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center which itself is funded by the U.S. Department of Education's National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR). Funding for further development is provided by NIDRR. Download MAGpie from NCAM, free of charge.

Standards for Accessible Learning Technologies

The Standards for Accessible Learning Technologies (SALT) Partnership is a four-year initiative which involves partners from every facet of the distributed learning industry. This project will develop and promote open-access specifications and support implementation models which enable people with disabilities to access distributed learning resources. Specifications will involve and serve the entire community of public and private companies, organizations and individuals developing learning resources. Project activities and results will have an impact on the accessibility of on-line resources in every conceivable learning environment: K-12, vocational and post-secondary education, the government and the military, and in and workplace training.

NCAM and the IMS Global Learning Consortium will co-lead the project. Committed industry partners include Blackboard, Inc., Educational Testing Service (ETS), Microsoft Corporation, Pearson Education, Sun Microsystems, PeopleSoft, Saba Software, and the United Kingdom's Open University. Advisors include the leadership of membership organizations in education and disability. Disabled users will contribute to identification of barriers and evaluation of proposed solutions.

The project has the following goals:

  1. Engage learning-technology companies, publishers, and infrastructure and content providers in an ongoing national forum to identify the features needed to make on-line learning accessible and specify the resources and technologies needed to implement solutions.

  2. Establish an industry-led IMS Working Group which will develop, refine and proliferate formal access specifications for online learning.

  3. Catalyze early delivery of accessible technical products, resulting in products and services which allow people with disabilities to access learning resources.

  4. Establish an industry-led IMS Working Group which will develop, refine and proliferate formal access specifications for online learning.
Solutions will serve the on-line learning industry and the 72% of the nation's post-secondary institutions which enroll students with disabilities. Project findings will also benefit the nation's estimated 22 million deaf or hard-of-hearing people, 12 million blind or visually impaired people, and 8 million people with motor impairments. Funding for the SALT project is provided by the Learning Anywhere Anytime Partnerships Project (LAAP) at the U.S. Department of Education .

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