2002 Conference Proceedings

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Richard Ely, Ed.D. TVI and Terry Maggiore M.Ed. COMS
CPB / WGBH National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM)
WGBH Educational Foundation
125 Western Ave.
Boston, MA 02134
e-mail: rick_ely@wgbh.org and terry_maggiore@wgbh.org 
web: http://www.wgbh.org/NCAM


With the push to equip our nation's students with the latest technology, the use of electronic media is increasingly being incorporated into the curriculum of elementary and secondary schools. In the past, the classroom teacher would do the teaching and visual media, such as video tape, would be a reinforcement or enrichment. Teaching has changed, and the immediate access to information through classroom multimedia centers has allowed the use of web-based information, which relies on still pictures, diagrams, animation and full motion video, to be a central focus rather than an ancillary part of the lesson. Students who are blind or visually impaired often miss much of the information presented in these graphical elements, leaving them at a decided disadvantage in their learning opportunities.

eDescription's Approach to Curriculum Materials

The eDescription Project has developed a methodology for creating effective descriptions for this kind of visual content. Often educational visual media includes a very dense narrative soundtrack that allows for few opportunities to insert conventional audio description, as is found in materials prepared by the Descriptive Video Service (DVS)(r).

eDescription has employed technology that allows the video image to be paused while extended, enhanced, educational descriptions are read. These descriptions are created using a set of guidelines, developed by the eDescription Project, that address not only description of the topic at hand, but add to the students conceptual knowledge base. Much research has shown that the majority of conceptual learning takes place visually (1). Many students that are blind or visually impaired miss out on this learning and fail to develop a true understanding of many fundamental concepts. Building upon current research on cognition in blind and visually impaired children we can contribute to the advancement of theory, knowledge and practices related to the strategic use of eDescription as an instructional tool.

Early Findings

In order to assess the effectiveness of eDescription, a formative evaluation using media from a nationally recognized health curriculum was conducted. Preliminary results suggest that both students and teachers agreed eDescription was helpful to address the information missed within visual media. General consensus was that stopping the media and adding extended description without background noise allowed the students to focus on what was being said. Teachers were in agreement that adding expanded description of elements that may not have been seen pictorially, provided students with the additional information needed to better understand the teaching objective of the material. General classroom teachers anecdotally revealed that this kind of description could help other learners within their classroom, most notably those students who have difficulty processing visual information. Further study should take place around this population.

These positive factors revealed an undesirable effect. Both students and teachers felt that if the eDescribed version of the media was to be used in a classroom setting it might be questioned by some of the student's sighted peers, bringing unwanted attention to the student's visual impairment. Different modes of use, such as pre-teaching and review, were considered to be more desirable.

There was disagreement between students and teachers as to the placement of eDescription within the media. Teachers preferred to have the eDescription before or after an element, where as students preferred it be placed within the element. Further evaluation is presently taking place to judge the effectiveness of each of these placements on learning outcomes.

Participating teachers expressed the need for concrete guidelines and describer-training methods. Materials developed by the eDescription Project will be used to train classroom teachers and paraprofessionals in the skills of describing materials that effect student learning. The guidelines and training methods of the eDescription Project could prove to be its most valuable asset. In addition to eDescription guidelines and training methods, the project is also evaluating modes of delivery.


It is clear that these are early results. Teachers and students found eDescription valuable, but there is more to be done in determining the best way to incorporate eDescription into multimedia materials. Although not within the scope of this project, additional study is indicated for use with students who have difficulty processing visual information.

This presentation will

* Introduce participants to the eDescription methodology.
* Provide examples of films and other materials that have been adapted using this approach.
* Review the formative evaluation of the methodology and examples
* Demonstrate MAGpie, the program that has been developed to make it possible to add both audio description and closed captioning to digital video

Participants will be invited to comment on the process and the examples and to discuss the implications for the findings of the study.


1. Eugene E. Lechelt and David L. Hall. The Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Pamphlets and Publications: The impact of vision loss on the development of children from birth to 12 years: A literature review. (The Canadian National Institute for the Blind,Toronto, 1998).

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