Crossmodal Interactive Tools for Inclusive Learning (CRITICAL) (2016/2021)

Sponsored by EPSRC Early Career Fellowship

Role: Principal Investigator

I have been awarded a 5-years Early Career fellowship to research and develop interactive learning tools to make mixed classrooms more inclusive of visually impaired students.

I will be exploring answers to questions such as: how do people learn together when they have access to different sets of sensory modalities? And, how can we exploit crossmodal interaction to design more inclusive collaborative user interfaces?

Why does this matter?

Approximately 70 per cent of visually impaired children in the UK are educated in mainstream schools. This often takes the form of one or two learners in a class of fully sighted peers. Students and teachers face challenges in such settings related to how best to modify and access learning materials as well as how to manage group work to nurture an adequate learning environment for all. For example, a number of curriculum standards of core components in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) emphasise the importance of graphic literacy to establish a foundation for future practices. Teachers in mainstream schools therefore have to resort to modifying curriculum resources that include graphics to make them accessible to visually impaired learners by using physical tools such as Braille, tactile diagrams or heat-raised images.

But these tools are designed to be used by visually impaired learners alone and not by their sighted peers, and so can end up forcing them to learn as isolated individuals and exclude from group learning activities. In addition, as classrooms become more computerised, visually impaired learners are likely to face with more barriers since they mostly rely on screen-readers to access computers and these can be inadequate for accessing graphics and can inhibit meaningful collaboration with sighted peers.

If not carefully studied and designed, technology can have detrimental effects on the inclusion of visually impaired learners in mainstream schools, particularly in contexts where they interact with sighted peers, and can lead to drastic effects on their lives as adults.

What I will do about it

critical-logo-copyI will research and develop interactive learning tools to make group work in mixed classrooms more inclusive of visually impaired students. I will focus on digital technologies that support graphic literacy and group learning activities and use an iterative user-centred approach combining participatory design activities with empirical research into crossmodal interaction to find out how different senses can be effectively integrated with visual capabilities to support group work.

This means that I will work very closely with students, teachers, involving everyone in the process of coming with up with ideas of how to tackle the challenges they face. I will then use these ideas to implement prototype tools, which I will use to conduct empirical research into crossmodal interaction. I will then test and validate these tools in classroom settings to find out how they can improve group learning activities and teaching practices.

This approach will go beyond the state of the art in the design of interactive learning tools to contribute to improving the inclusion of visually impaired individuals in education, work and the society in general.

More on CRITICAL project webpage