TILE- The Inclusive Learning Exchange: Learner-centric transformations of learning resources

TILE was the test bed and evaluation environment for the "Accessibility for LIP" IMS specification. This Viewpoint discusses authoring and viewing tools that optimize the match between creating content and meeting the multiple needs and preferences of different learners.

As thoughtful educators know, students learn differently and have pronounced individual preferences. The optimal learning environment varies from learner to learner; and for the same individual, from context to context and from discipline to discipline. Creating a learning resource optimized for all learners in all contexts seems like an impossible challenge, but one that must be addressed for educational, ethical, and legal reasons. The Inclusive Learning Exchange (TILE, http://inclusivelearning.ca/tile/), led by the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre (ATRC) at the University of Toronto (http://www.utoronto.ca/atrc/), has developed a learning environment to match the needs and preferences of the learner with the user interface and learning resources that address those needs and preferences. ATRC has established a framework that:

  • allows producers of learning resources to create content that can be transformed or reassembled to meet the needs of the learner,
  • provides learners with a mechanism to express their needs and preferences in functional terms that can be acted upon by a computer, and
  • labels resources so that learner preferences can be matched to the resources created by the producers.

The key to authoring accessible content is, wherever possible, to create content in such a way that the display and control of the content is flexible. Second, if content is not transformable, (e.g., text captions of audio), provide equivalent alternatives in other modalities. Third, label the content and equivalent alternatives using a simple metadata vocabulary. The TILE system assists the author in these processes and makes it possible for several authors to contribute to the creation of equivalent alternatives for a given learning resource. The TILE framework makes it feasible to achieve legislated accessibility commitments while optimizing learning for all learners.

Four components enable TILE to achieve the goal of inclusive access. The first two are "underneath the hood," the accessibility element of the learner information package (LIP), and accessibility metadata. The second two components, the content authoring tool and the repository services web interface (learner interface), serve as "user front ends."

Describing Learner Needs and Preferences

TILE was the test bed and evaluation environment for the IMS Global Learning Consortium recommended specification ACCLIP or "Accessibility for LIP" (http://www.imsglobal.org/accessibility). The ACCLIP provides a common language to describe how a learner wishes information to be displayed and controlled. It also allows a learner to specify required supplementary resources.

TILE has created a simple "preference wizard." This tool steps learners through a series of easy to understand questions to build an individual ACCLIP file. Learners can create a different ACCLIP file for different contexts. For example, a learner might indicate that they prefer enlarged text and a high contrast background for their work computer, but in the evening they want the text read to them with an audio description of any video.

To meet a learner's needs and preferences as expressed using ACCLIP, learning resources must be labelled with corresponding metadata. Once a preference such as audio description is specified, there must be a means to find that alternative content. TILE also was the test bed and evaluation environment for an extension to the IMS Metadata specification to create resource labels that correspond to ACCLIP. The AccessForAll Metadata Specification (known as ACCMD) (http://www.imsglobal.org/accessibility/) was finalized in August 2004 and helps meet this requirement.

Accessibility Metadata

The goal for the AccessForAll Metadata specification is to enable identification of resources that match the access preferences of the learner. The ACCMD specifies the metadata used to describe the primary or default learning resource and metadata to describe equivalent alternatives- the same information presented in an alternate access modality. Metadata on the primary resource is relatively brief and simple. For example, it indicates whether or not a resource contains auditory or visual content. An equivalent alternative resource is described in language that matches the ACCLIP. The metadata also links a primary resource and its equivalent alternatives (and vice versa) to facilitate searching. For example, the ACCMD could indicate that a given resource is a text caption for the auditory content of a specific video.

Entry of metadata on a public access learning object repository presents some challenges because the process can be cumbersome, and the information entered is not monitored for accuracy. In TILE, care has been taken to reduce the burden of metadata entry on the author by limiting entry screens and using "plain language." Also, the process is automated whenever possible.

TILE Content Authoring Tool

TILE provides a tool that allows content creators to aggregate their content, identify alternative content, and create the necessary accessibility metadata. The authoring tool provides a simple, intuitive interface through which educators identify learning objects to achieve a learning objective, and identify alternative learning objects that can achieve the same learning objectives through different modalities. The authoring tool automatically creates the necessary accessibility metadata based on information provided by the author.

TILE Learner Interface

The TILE learner interface includes the preferences wizard that guides learners in creating their accessibility profile (stored as an ACCLIP document). Once a learner has created a profile, the TILE transformation engine automatically compares the learner's profile to the accessibility metadata of content they access. If the content isn't suitable for the learner's stated preferences, alternative content is sought by comparing the learner's profile to the accessibility metadata attached to equivalent alternatives. For example, if a learner requires descriptions for visual content and the primary resource is a video with no embedded descriptions, references to equivalent alternatives are examined to supplement or replace the primary resource.

Next steps for TILE & Universal Access to Repositories

The Adaptive Technology Research Center has initiated projects that will move learner-centric transformations to new learning environments such as electronic textbooks and novels, or cultural repositories like web museums. Never before has it been so easy to communicate the same message simultaneously in text, language and images. How will our ability to access information in multiple modes change the way we learn and understand? For some, multiple modes provide the first opportunity to access information. For others, multiple modes provide the opportunity to learn in multiple ways or to access information with different technologies. TILE demonstrates that it is feasible for the average educator to optimize learning for many diverse learners.

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