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VICKIE, an IST project for Inclusive Education

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Dominique BURGER1, Gilles BRONNER 2, Dominique ARCHAMBAULT2, Bernadett BEKEFI3

1.INSERM U 483,
2.EUROBRAILLE
3.Université Pierre et Marie Curie

dominique.burger@snv.jussieu.fr

     

Introduction

The main objective of the Vickie project is to promote a global scheme for the production, the adaptation and the distribution of accessible learning material for visually impaired students or pupils (VISP), in the general framework of an inclusive educational system (Figure 1). In other words Vickie aims at developing, assembling and verifying software components that will constitute a continuous chain between the original publisher of teaching support (teacher notes, courses, school books, text books, …) and their visually impaired end-users.

To reach this objective different types of organisations have been involved: schools, resource centres, research organisations, manufacturers of assistive technology and publishing companies whose commitment is essential.

By the end of the project, in June 2005, we expect to clearly demonstrate the feasibility and the viability of this global scheme by implementing it in schools of three European countries namely France, Italy, Ireland. This implementation is expected to serve as a pilot test and to be transferred to other countries, in the future.

The basis for this demonstration, is a computer environment facilitating the production, the adaptation, the distribution, and the reading of accessible learning documents for VISP. This computer environment will be a coherent combination of software programmes. The Vickie environment shall be compatible with existing environments used in schools, especially Web platforms.


Partnership

Six organisations from three countries have constituted the Vickie Consortium [1] in order to carry out the project, which is coordinated by the University Pierre et Marie Curie (Table 1).

This consortium benefits from the experience of users' organisation with different educational systems, three different European countries, namely France, Italy and Ireland:

Vickie technical teams are from University Paris 6 (UPMC), from the Centre for Advanced Studies.
Research and Development (CRS4), and from EuroBraille, France. Also co-operation has been established with publishing companies, like Hachette Multimedia, Infomedia, Bordas and Nathan.

Name

Short name

Country

Université Pierre et Marie Curie

UPMC

France

Association BrailleNet

BNET

France

Regina Margherita National Library for the Blind in Monza

BRM

Italy

Centro di Ricerca, Sviluppo e Studi Superiori in Sardegna,

CRS4

Italy

St-Joseph's School for the Visually Impaired

SJS

Irelande

EuroBraille

EB

France

Table 1 : Partners involved in the Vickie Consortium

Description of the Vickie system

The Vickie system can be described by the Figure 1

The Vickie system

Figure 1 : the general co-operative scheme promoted by Vickie. Students can access documents from a server and services on a network via an adapted and unified interface. Publishers and adaptation centres can co-operate to provide teaching documents adapted to the needs of the VISP

The Vickie system provides mainly 1) a learning environment for the VISP, and 2) an environment for teachers and professional transcribers preparing/adapting teaching support.


Facilitating the access to learning supports and facilities


Vickie will attempt to provide an unique user interface, with a unified set of commands, for performing tasks like navigating in a book, using a notebook or using a calculator, accessing a dictionary, sending a document , web browsing ….... This interface will be adaptable to the needs of each pupil or student. Visually impaired pupils and students may use a variety of interface devices: Braille displays, speech synthesisers, touch devices (Table 2)

 
Input devices Output devices
  • Touch pads,
  • Braille keyboard,
  • Standard keyboard
  • Standard mouse,
  • Speech Input;
  • Speech Synthesis,
  • Braille display,
  • Standard sound display,
  • Adjustable graphical screen display,
  • Braille printer,
  • Standard printer.
  •  

    Table 2 : the different I/O devices that can be controlled by the Vickie System.

    The VISP environment will be able to control directly these devices, but it will also be compatible with standard screen readers, used to access other software in parallel with the Vickie environment.

    VISP will have access to annotations and corrections made by teachers on their work. The system will also make possible for VISP to share documents with their sighted peers, allowing co-operative work.

    A learning Web platform, based on Claroline [2] will be as a part of the Vickie environment.

    Facilitating the work of the teacher

    Sighted teachers will be able to access the documents used and produced by VISP, using a visual presentation on a screen. Also, students and pupils will be able to print their work on a standard printer, allowing them to produce visual document as their sighted peers (with colours and enriched text, for instance).

    Templates and simple editing tools will be provided in order to facilitate the design of exercises by teachers (for instance: multiple choices questionnaires, sentences with "holes", maths...).

    Teachers will be provided tools to prepare course materials that all students will be able to access with their own interface. Theses materials may be composed of documents issued from different sources, in a variety of standard formats.

    Facilitating the adaptation of documents

    VICKIE will develop a new approach for the adaptation of existing source documents. It will make possible to adapt original documents, provided by publishers in stuctured formats, using an editing interface to create a secondary files in which the modifications are concentrated. This approach will alleviate the adaptation work of schools and universities. It will therefore augment the availability of teaching material for visually impaired pupils and students.

    The software programmes for preparing documents will be composed of a set of tools like converters from one format to another (for instance from LaTex to Braille or from MathML to Braille, word processor macros and Web based services allowing to convert files from very diverse sources), and to comment or provide substitutes to parts of the document, like pictures in an history book, maps, graphics and tables in an geography book. The converters will address two kind of needs: 1) needs of teacher preparing course material or exercise sheets using a standard word processor, and 2) needs related to the preparation of accessible document from XML files provided by publishers together with their DTD. Figure 2 illustrates the documents flow between the publishers, transcription centres, pupils and teachers.

    Two formats have been chosen to code the Vickie documents, namely the Daisy (ANSI/NISO Z39.86) [3] and a proprietary Vickie XHTML, defined in an internal document.

    VICKIE environment will integrate a secure document delivery service and an accounting system, making possible to monitor the use of documents. The "Hélène Server" has been developed by one partner of the project, BrailleNet, to improve the co-operation between the different actors involved in producing and distributing books in alternate formats for visually impaired persons. The Helene Server 2.0 [4] provides a complete framework to manage information on books, on publishers' relationships (authorization and retribution) and to track editing and delivering workflow. It will to provide the highest IPR security, while remaining transparent to the end-user.

    Figure 2 : Files provided by publishers are adapted and formatted as to fulfil the requirements of VISP end users. They are stored on a secured delivery server.


    Figure 2 : Files provided by publishers are adapted and formatted as to fulfil the requirements of VISP end users. They are stored on a secured delivery server.

    Scenario of use

    This sections describes a possible scenario of use of Vickie in order to illustrate more concretely what kind facilitations are expected from Vickie. Details - like the exact name of the commands and the exact services used - are imagined. This scenario is not exhaustive, either.

    9:00 am, all pupils enter the classroom. Alex, 9 years old and totally blind, switches on is computer while the other pupils, 9 years old also but sighted, open their school bags. The teachers asks the children to open their reading books on page 21. Alex selects "open reading book" and selects the page 21 using his Braille terminal, and the lesson can start. When he reads a word that he didn't understand, he opens his electronic dictionary and can read the definition of this word. Then when he closes the dictionary, he his back to the reading book, exactly at the same place.

    Half an hour later the teacher distributes an exercise on the text, that he or she has prepared last evening. Alex selects the command "get teacher's exercise" and opens the exercise (today's one is automatically proposed as default choice, the computer connects to the teacher's computer to get the exercise). While other pupils fill the spaces and answer the questions on the paper, Alex writes the same using his Braille terminal. Then he puts the exercise as a new file on the teacher's computer (using the command "return the exercise to teacher").

    At the end of the morning, Alex receives a feedback from the resource centre to which he had sent an exercise last week. This was an exercise concerning Braille Grade II. The exercise was sent by the resource centre, it was performed in the classroom, under the control of the teacher, and then sent back for being corrected by the resource centre.

    The teacher cannot read Braille - he or she can control the work of Alex on his computer's screen. He or she prepares the exercises for all pupils using a standard word processor, then he or she uses a Vickie tool that convert automatically the document into a document in the Vickie format.

    After lunch, and before lessons starts again, Alex takes a few minutes to look at the messages from other blind pupils, which are also integrated in ordinary classrooms in the same region, and to write answers. The messages are sent using electronic mail.
    The books for Alex are prepared by professionals in a transcription centre who use Vickie's tools for professionals to transcribe the book that was sent by the editor in XML format: these tools are a set of automatic converters and an enriching software allowing to prepare adaptation of graphical and/or complex contents of the documents. The book is put on a secured server. All the documents travelling on the Internet are secured and allow to warranty a maximum security to the editor of the books.

    Conclusion

    The VICKIE project respond to a strong demand expressed by the professionals working for visually impaired pupils or students, and these students and their families [5]. Let's remind some figures concerning visually impaired people in Europe. According to an European study conducted by the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), the number of blind persons is estimated to 1,1 million, while people with low vision would be 11,5 millions. One can estimate that around 250 000 to 350 000 are in schools, universities or following regularly training sessions at work.

    This demand appears in the context of European initiatives aiming at improving education by using information technologies, like the E-Learning Initiative, or e-Europe 2005, which aims at generalising the use of computers in schools and universities over Europe [6].
    A first implementation of the Vickie system will be experimented in France, Italy and Ireland by the end of 2003. The full demonstration of the Vickie system should be completed by june 2005.

    The expected results are :

    References


    [1] Vickie Web Site : http://inova.snv.jussieu.fr/vickie/
    [2] Claroline : http://www.claroline.net
    [3] Daisy : http://www.daisy.org
    [4] Serveur Hélène : http://www.serveur-helene.org/
    [5] Dominique Archambault, Dominique Burger(2002), The Vickie project, in K. Miesenberger, J. Klaus, W. Zagler (Eds.): Computer Helping People with Special Needs- 8th International Conference, ICCHP 2002, Linz, Austria, July 15-20, 2002. Proceedings, Springer pp. 90-97
    [6] eEurope 2005: http://europa.eu.int/information_society/eeurope/news_library/eeurope2005/index_en.htm


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