The act of note-taking is a key component of learning in secondary and post-secondary classrooms. Students who take notes retain information from classroom lectures better, even if they never refer to those notes afterward. However, students who are legally blind, and who wish to take notes in their classrooms are at a disadvantage. Simply equipping classrooms with lecture recording systems does not substitute for note taking, since it does not actively engage the student in note-taking during the lecture. For the problems encountered by a student who is legally blind, the proposed solution is Smart Note Taker. The Smart Note-Taker, which is a highly portable device that requires no prior classroom setup, and does not require lecturers to adapt their presentations.
The Note-Taker allow students who are legally blind to access virtually any presentation, including guest lectures, conference presentations, and even special events, or live performances. By allowing students who are legally blind to fully control the assistive technologies upon which they rely, we can provide them with a level of independence that they would not otherwise enjoy.
Overhead projectors, digital projectors, whiteboards and chalkboards are often used to convey information in educational environments, such as classrooms. However, these visual display methods are not inherently accessible to individuals who are legally blind, and may put them at a disadvantage, compared to their peers.
Several methods have been proposed to make classroom presentations more accessible to students who are legally blind. For example, lectures might be recorded (for later review) or a human note-taker might be hired to take notes, which are then provided to the student. However, these approaches do not engage students who are legally blind in the process of understanding and participating in classroom presentations, and might even encourage them to skip class. To improve accessibility of classroom lectures for students who are legally blind, and to encourage them to take notes, the proposed solution is Smart Note Taker. This device requires no existing infrastructure or prior setup in a classroom, and does not require the lecturer to adjust the presentation.
None of the existing classroom technologies provide students who are legally blind with adequate real-time access to classroom lectures. Many of these existing technologies have significant overhead, such as prior setup in the classroom and many of them require the lecturer to adapt the presentation, and none of these classroom technologies deals with the BNB delays faced by students who are legally blind.
Based on the observations, and discussions with David and other legally blind students, the following principles have been proposed to guide the design of technology to assist students who are legally blind during note-taking activities:
1. The solution should not rely upon the presence of previously installed equipment in the classroom.
2. The solution should not make students who are legally blind dependent on others (including other students, the lecturer, or a member of the technical staff).
3. The solution should not estrange students who are legally blind, or interfere with their interactions with lecturers and peers, as might be the case with an obtrusive, head-mounted camera system.
4. The solution should not require lecturers to change their presentations in any way. Ideally, lecturers should not even need to be aware that a special solution is being employed by students who are legally blind.
5. The solution should not disrupt the classroom environment. For example, it should not obstruct the views of other students, and it should not be noisy.
6. The solution should not be significantly more expensive than other types of assistive technology. This sets a ceiling cost of $3000.
7. The solution should provide students who are legally blind with real-time access to all aspects of the classroom presentation, including the lecturer, the chalkboard/whiteboard, and any projected images.
8. The solution should be portable, should not take more than a couple of minutes to set up, and should fit within the footprint of a student’s classroom desk or table.
9. In accordance with BATE (Beyond Accessibility To Efficiency) principle, the solution should allow students who are legally blind to access information during class, just as fully sighted students are able to
do. In other words, students who are legally blind should not be required to spend extra time outside of class listening to recorded lectures, in order to learn the same information that fully sighted students can absorb during class.
The Note-Taker is comprised of a servo-operated pan/tilt mechanism, a consumer camcorder, and a 13-inch Tablet PC with a 1280x768 screen. This entire Note-Taker system fits easily into a typical-sized student backpack, and is entirely battery-powered. Upon arriving in the classroom, the student clamps the pan/tilt mechanism to the desk, installs the camera onto the pan/tilt mechanism, and then connects both to the Tablet PC through USB cables, to produce the configuration shown in Figure. With practice, this whole set-up process takes about a minute, and can be done while the Tablet PC is booting.
Even in its early development, the prototype Note-Taker became an integral component of the first author’s classroom workflow, and he feels that it is an essential tool for the completion of his degrees in computer science and mathematics. M felt that the Note-Taker had significant potential, given refinements. Based on these two case studies, we feel that the Note-Taker provides a better solution than existing technologies to the problems that these students who are legally blind encounter in their classrooms.
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