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Training Reports Workshops Briefings Index

IT, Disability and Lifelong Learning

2 February 1996

This Conference, attended by around 170 delegates, was organised by the National Council for Educational Technology (NCET). It gave professionals from a range of disciplines, including teachers, lecturers and support staff, the change to see how IT was being used to overcome a wide range of disabilities and provide better learning opportunities.

Several presenters focused on the benefits multimedia has to offer to both physically and learning disabled students.

David Brown of Nottingham University and David Stewart of the Shepherd School looked at the benefits of using virtual reality. They have created several virtual worlds, in which the students can move around and perform everyday tasks, such as shopping or making a cup of coffee. This allows them to practice everyday tasks safely. Although they are initially guided, the students soon become totally self-directed. It has been found that by practising tasks in the virtual worlds, the students do cope better with real tasks in the real world.

These virtual worlds run on IBM compatible 486 PCs, can now be accessed using touch screens. A decision was taken at the start of the project not to use head mounted displays to deliver immersive virtual reality as it was felt the health and safety aspects, particularly psychological aspects, of such sets are not yet well understood.

Multimedia learning materials are potentially very valuable to the disabled, as multimedia can make a wide range of information more accessible, because of the different ways in which the information can be accessed and because different media can be used to reinforce meanings. A large range of multimedia courseware is now available, though as was pointed out in the Higgenson Report the quality is variable. Allowing students to generate their own multimedia can also be beneficial, encouraging a wide range of skills, from practical skills to collaborative working skills. Angela Lee and Steven Logan of the Lumley Learning Centre, New College, Durham explained how their students were using a simple multimedia authoring tool, MMBox2, to produce their own multimedia applications.

As well as the main Conference, there was also an Exhibition and a 'classroom', where delegates had the opportunity to see how IT was really being used by pupils from several schools. These included the Sythwood County Primary School Visual Impairment Unit, where text to speech convertors is being used along with braille input keyboards to allow visually impaired children to work alongside their sighted peers.

The NCET WWW pages can be accessed at:

Sue Cunningham
SIMA Multimedia Support Officer
Computer Graphics Unit
Manchester Computing
University of Manchester
Manchester M13 9PL

Tel: +44 161 275 6803
Fax: +44 161 275 6040