2007: Benjamin's House - Making Braille reading and writing fun for children


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Presentation given by Jonathan Hassell (Accessibility Editor, BBC jam) and Nick Kind (Spark Learning) at Techshare 2007.

Covers: how Braille displays and audio content can transform a blind five-year old's learning; how Spark-Tinopolis created Benjamin's House as an eLearning game to help blind children to learn English and Braille literacy (both reading and writing); how we got Benjamin Zephaniah to contribute poems and be the host of the game; how we created an aurally compelling game world; how materials created

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  • Jonathan ’ s bit starts
  • So to give you some examples of what specific SEN commissions we are progressing: You ’ ve seen a trail on the film of what we ’ re doing to help literacy in the Blind community. Literacy for blind children is all about learning Braille. Early Braille tuition and practice is currently only possible in one-to-one sessions with a teacher or Teaching Assistant, often only on one or two days a week. At present, the lack of appropriate materials and time allowed for Braille tuition make it very challenging for teachers to make this fun or engaging . We ’ re looking to use new Braille technologies to allow Braille learners to practise their literacy skills without the aid of a teacher, over a wider, more engaging set of stories, rhymes and poems than they currently have access to. We ’ re doing something similar for bilingual Deaf learners, who have the challenge of learning written English and British Sign Language at the same time. We ’ re looking to use new technologies such as BSL Avatars, which have been developed by the academic community, to support Deaf learners to grow their literacy skills. Finally, we are looking to use Soundscape techniques taken from the evolving Blind games community to open up hands-on, interactive learning to Blind learners, by using sounds to indicate their environment and what is happening, rather than the usual “ tell don ’ t show ” multiple-choice quizzes or book learning. I could say much more, but I hope that this has given you a flavour of the innovative and creative approaches we are using to bring learning to life for many children who have often been under-served by recent advances in learning.
  • Jonathan again
  • Jonathan again
  • 2007: Benjamin's House - Making Braille reading and writing fun for children

    1. 1. Benjamin ’ s House Making Braille reading and writing fun for children Nick Kind – Spark Learning Jonathan Hassell – BBC jam
    2. 2. Ayesha ’ s story <ul><li>How a Braille display, an initial prototype and a five-year old convinced a Qualified Teacher of the Visually Impaired </li></ul>
    3. 3. How it all started… - what the BBC wanted <ul><li>Benjamin ’ s House was part of BBC jam </li></ul><ul><li>Curriculum-based eLearning service: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>educational games for 5-16 year olds </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>bridging home and school via internet </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>trying to be innovative, and using BBC archive </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Wanted to make all of it accessible, via: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>inclusion: to be as accessible as possible overall </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>beyond inclusion: to produce unique, groundbreaking materials for specific SEN groups </li></ul></ul>
    4. 4. Primary Literacy for Blind Learners <ul><ul><li>currently not much use of ICT for VI/Blind children/teens - wanted to change that </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>started looking at core subjects at primary age </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>wanted something: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>highly innovative </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>bilingual: written English & Braille </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>learner centred & engaging </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>using new technologies: Braille displays and embossers </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>series of reading and writing exercises … </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>focusing on text-level work (story, rhyme, poetry) which supports (and extend) existing Braille reading schemes </li></ul></ul></ul>
    5. 5. The Spark-Tinopolis response <ul><li>We had previous experience in developing an immersive “ world ” for primary school children </li></ul><ul><li>But it was very visual, and relied on “ eye candy ” for the element of joy which is so important to young children </li></ul><ul><li>How to do this for the completely blind? </li></ul>
    6. 6. Our sound world <ul><li>A sound-world – with aurally compelling content – as rich in sounds as Spark Island is in sights </li></ul><ul><li>Internally consistent but entertaining </li></ul><ul><li>Bringing out “ the joy of text ” </li></ul><ul><li>With a central “ host ” to help the learner get around </li></ul><ul><li>But who could hold this together? </li></ul>
    7. 7. Benjamin ’ s House <ul><li>Benjamin Zephaniah. The more we thought about it, the better the fit. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Performance poetry is a contemporary, live way of engaging with texts </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Appeal to children </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Compelling performer and musician in his own right </li></ul></ul>
    8. 8. How the house works <ul><li>Consists of interlinked rooms, each of which contains several objects </li></ul><ul><li>Objects might be people </li></ul><ul><li>Every object has a poem or story associated with them – so Fungus the Bogeyman is in the cellar, and there is a Tibetan monk in the sauna </li></ul><ul><li>Fine balance between the wacky and the confusing (there ’ s also a clock by the bed) </li></ul><ul><li>Each object has an associated educational game (e.g. ordering a list) </li></ul>
    9. 9. Let ’ s go to the bathroom... <ul><li>A demonstration </li></ul>
    10. 10. What we have learned (good) <ul><li>This stuff works. Kids were getting into Braille earlier, loving the poems and activities, and really wanting to use the technology. </li></ul><ul><li>Wokingham have bought Braille displays themselves as they thought they made such a difference </li></ul><ul><li>You can create truly inclusive tools which work in a sighted classroom – “ reverse inclusion ” </li></ul>
    11. 11. What we have learned (bad or difficult) <ul><li>The technologies are all immature and don ’ t interoperate well </li></ul><ul><li>Teachers need a lot of support to get to grips with this technology </li></ul><ul><li>It ’ s still very expensive and the UK is behind the curve because screenreader English is (relatively speaking) advanced </li></ul>
    12. 12. What we have learned (ugly) <ul><li>Avoid using Flash and screenreaders to power braille displays. We managed it, but it was a complete nightmare – particularly given the pace of change. </li></ul><ul><li>Develop server-side if you can. </li></ul>
    13. 13. Things we might have done <ul><li>A series of physical artefacts to accompany the resource (for example a kit to make Benjamin ’ s House for real, a tactile map of the house) </li></ul><ul><li>Versions for different languages </li></ul><ul><li>More activities using the same engines </li></ul>
    14. 14. Where we go from here - so when ’ s it available…? <ul><li>We have the first ICT braille/English literacy software in Europe </li></ul><ul><li>But we can ’ t launch it. </li></ul><ul><li>Why we can ’ t launch it… </li></ul><ul><li>How you could help change this… </li></ul>
    15. 15. Any questions? <ul><li>Nick Kind – [email_address] </li></ul><ul><li>Jonathan Hassell – [email_address] </li></ul>