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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/N00616X/2
Title: Cross-modal Interactive Tools for Inclusive Learning
Principal Investigator: Metatla, Dr O
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Georgia Institute of Technology Kings Copse Primary School Sensory Support Service
University of Bath
Department: Computer Science
Organisation: University of Bristol
Scheme: EPSRC Fellowship
Starts: 02 March 2016 Ends: 01 February 2021 Value (£): 706,195
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Human Communication in ICT Human-Computer Interactions
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Information Technologies Education
Related Grants:
Panel History:  
Summary on Grant Application Form
Students with special education needs are traditionally placed in specialized schools where they are provided with facilities and trained staff to accommodate their needs. Today, there is a shift in government policies towards providing support for equalisation of education opportunity, embodying UNESCO's Salamanca World Statement which considers "Inclusion and participation [as] essential to human dignity [...] enjoyment and exercise of human rights" (UNESCO 1994). This shift underlines the national agenda for integrating more visually impaired children in mainstream schools and reducing exclusion, which is often the result of unmet special needs.

According to a recent report by the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), approximately 70 per cent of visually impaired children in the UK are educated in mainstream settings. This often takes the form of one or two learners in a class of fully sighted peers. Issues related to how best to modify learning materials as well as how to manage group work to nurture an adequate learning environment for all is challenging in such settings. For instance, 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. However, these tools are designed to be used by visually impaired learners alone and not by their sighted peers, and thus 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. For instance, jobs that require data analysis, including careers in STEM, often encode information using graphics and require teamwork and collaboration. Learning how to interpret and construct graphics as well as how to effectively engage with peers should, and generally does, begin during a student's basic education.

The underlying problem is that current technological support for learning in mixed classrooms emphasise accessibility over inclusion, targeting individual rather than social learning and group work. Focus is thus placed on an individual's disability and not on the variety of abilities present in a social context of group learning involving students, teachers and technology.

The aim of this Early Career fellowship is to research and develop interactive learning tools to make mixed classrooms more inclusive of visually impaired students. Non-visual modalities (e.g. audio, gestures, haptic and tactile feedback) have already shown potential benefit to support accessible interactions, but there are still limitations in their applicability in real world settings, such as issues with cross-modal effects when groups work together using different senses. The developed tools will focus on gaps in technological support for accommodating national curriculum standards by combining participatory design activities with empirical research into cross-modal interaction to find out how different senses can be integrated with visual capabilities. The tools will be validated in classroom settings to find out how they can improve group learning activities and teaching practices.
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Organisation Website: http://www.bris.ac.uk