Web 2.0 and Emerging Learning Technologies/Learning Styles
Learning Styles and Diverse Learners
How Can Emerging Technology Support Visual Learners, Auditory Learners, and Kinesthetic Learners?
In March 2006, I went to Walt Disney World in Orlando. I saw an amazing IMAX movie in the Animal Kingdom Park. The name of the movie was “It is Tough to Be a Bug”. The movie talked about the life of bugs. In this IMAX movie, people can use all their senses. People can smell, see, hear and touch. So, many people were surprised when they saw this movie and they learned a lot of information about bugs' lives. The secret in the movie was technology that was utilized to create all these different effects in one setting. This feature is so vital in enhancing learning. Today, technology works effectively with education and learning.
Technology can help many students improve their learning capabilities. In this respect, behavioral sciences are improving the educational technology processes which can identify varied examples of individual differences and innumerable human characteristics. There are many theories that address many students' learning styles. One of them is called VAK. VAK theory was founded and developed by Richard Bandler, and John Grinder. This theory divides students into three types according to their learning styles: visual learners, auditory learners, and kinesthetic learners (Al-Takriti, 1997).
How can we know or identify the visual learner?
First, let’s examine the students who learn by seeing. These students have a special way of learning. They like to hear quick sounds and they are very organized. They are also good spellers who can imagine and visualize the words in their minds. In addition, visual students have good handwriting, and they can remember the spelling of the words by writing the words on paper rather than by moving their mouths and pronouncing words as they read. They also like to learn by using pictures, maps, and charts (Al-Failkawei, 2005).
Some people call visual learners the picture learners or print learners. Although they appear to be similar, there is one difference between them. The picture learner likes to convert language to pictures (Willis and Hodson, 1999). The print learners like to see the words in their minds (Willis and Hodson, 1999).
The visual learners like to have a general idea about what they want to learn before they get the details (Al-Failkawei, 2005). Moreover, the visual learners like to organize their place, especially the place where they usually study and learn. A well-organized place will improve the visual learner's ability to comprehend a topic (Al-Failkawei, 2005). Posters can get the visual students’ attention (Al-Failkawei, 2005). There are some words (noun or verbs) that will attract the visual learners. The noun words are vision, scene, image, eye, show, color. The verb words are imagine, clear, recognize, watch, and see (Al-Takriti, 1997). Visual learners like to read books that have color pictures (Al-Failkawei, 2005).
Carole R. Endres, a professor of Economics in the College of Business and Administration (COBA) at Wright State University, described visual learners, on her website, in many domains (Endres, n.d.). One of these domains is the visual students in class. She mentioned that visual learners tend to underline, using different colors, and use charts, pictures, and symbols (Endres, n.d.). For example, if the visual student wants to remember what they read, it is better to use a pen to underline the important points. Also, they can use color to highlight the information. For example, they can highlight the definition in pink; the history background and dates in yellow; and the main idea of the topic or sub topics using green. Finally, visual learners use pictures or charts as a way to remember the lesson. For example, if the student has a lesson about the history of the United States of America, they can use pictures of the past Presidents of the United States of America to help them remember.
Another domain Endres noted was visual learners during exams (Endres, n.d.). During an exam, visual learners prefer to recall the pictures that they studied when preparing for the exam (Endres, n.d.). For example, visual students can recall the map of the Midwest to remember the states that are located in this area. In addition, Endres discusses drawing as a tool for visual students to use to remember information during exams (Endres, n.d.). An example of this is when the visual students have a question about plant parts. They can draw a plant for the purpose. Finally, she talks about the strategies of the practice to shift the pictures to words (Endres, n.d.). For example, the visual learners can remember some animal names; they can imagine these animals and they shift what they imagine to words.
One of my friends is a visual learner. When he came to the United States of America, he did not know any words in English. He used an effective strategy that supported his learning style. He used post-it notes to learn the names of different things. For example, he stuck different ones labeling different objects around his home. This person in short period of time learned a lot of words by using this strategy.
Another material that greatly helps these students learn things is the visual presentation, such as tables, charts, diagrams, and graphics, just to name four.
According to Dabarh Vowell, an English, Journalism, and Technology teacher, technology integration to teachers in high school, and PhD student at New Mexico State University, in her website “Educators are finding more and more that they must teach to specialized learning styles. Some students learn more easily from visual input. The teacher’s repertoire of strategies should include visual learning activities. Creative use of technology may enhance these activities” (Vowell, n.d.).
In the Learner Support Center at Durham College in Canada. A tip sheet is provided for the visual learner (Durham College, n.d.). This sheet has some valuable tips for the visual learner, such as having a clear view to the board, projector, and teacher (Durham College, n.d.). Also, video is used as an effective tool for visual students (Durham College, n.d.). Moreover, a game like Pictionary is well suited to their learning style, because it can be used to ask vocabulary-related questions to others (Durham College, n.d.).
Technology can help visual students by allowing pictures and other visual aids to be used in the classroom. The teachers can use a lot of colors in their presentations by using computers more than they can by using the white board or the black board because computers have many color options that instructors can utilize. Programs like Microsoft PowerPoint and Microsoft Word are good examples of applications that have many color options. Moreover, if teachers give this kind of student papers, it is much better for them to include some pictures in their papers and for them to use different colors in the text. For example, if the teacher is conducting a lesson about US history, the teacher can use some pictures of Abraham Lincoln. In addition, the teacher can match different colors to different events.
How can we know or identify the auditory learners?
Second, we will talk about students who learn by listening. This kind of students likes to learn by listening, and hearing the information. For example, they like to read articles out loud, or they like to hear somebody read it to them. They can remember what people say very well and they can imitate other people’s way of talking skillfully. These kinds of students find some difficulty in writing, but they are very good in speaking. They like to learn by conversation. The auditory students also like to learn through listening to music and the radio (Al-Failkawei, 2005).
The auditory learners feel comfortable listening to the normal voice which should not be too loud or too low (Al-Failkawei, 2005). Moreover, the visual auditory likes to socialize and talk with people (Al-Failkawei, 2005). The auditory students prefer to learn by having questions spoken to them so that they can think about answers (Al-Failkawei, 2005). There are some words (noun or verbs) that will attract auditory learners. The noun words are sound, conversation, tone, music, question, and answer (Al-Takriti, 1997). The verb words are hear, listen, ask, speak, sing, talk, and discuses (Al-Takriti, 1997). The visual auditory learners have the ability to easily memorize names (Al-Failkawei, 2005).
According to Nancy L. Eisenberg, Pamela H. Esser, and Ben J. Williams, in Our Special Kids website, she discussed “How to Spot the Auditory Learner in the Classroom”. One of these points is that the auditory student prefers to hear and tell stories (Eisenberg, Esser, and Williams, n.d). In addition, they are good at telling jokes (Eisenberg, Esser, and Williams, n.d). Moreover, they are hyperactive (Eisenberg, Esser, and Williams, n.d). Auditory students like “records, folk dances, rhythmic activities” (Eisenberg, Esser, and Williams, n.d.).
The Learner Support Center at Durham College in Canada provides a tip sheet for the auditory learner (Durham College, n.d.). This sheet has some valuable tips for the auditory learner like sitting in place that allow them to hear and listen very well in class (Durham College, n.d). Repeating the lesson to themselves will help the auditory learners memorize the lesson (Durham College, n.d.). In addition, it is better for them to read text loudly (Durham College, n.d.).
Audio Books & the Auditory Learners
Technology that can help auditory students in learning is technology that allows them to hear other voices during the class. For example, teachers can insert some animals’ voices if they have a lesson about animals in Africa. Moreover, there are many books on tapes or CDs, which are called audio books, which can help as well. The auditory students can use these sources to acquire knowledge. For example, today students have a chance to read the books without even opening them. Now there are many books on tapes or CDs. These tapes or CDs are popular with so many people. Finally, a tape recorder helps this kind of students by recording the teacher's lecture. The auditory students can then review their lessons again later in their homes (Al-Failkawei, 2005).
How can we know or identify the kinesthetic learners?
The third kind of learning is the kinesthetic learning style. In general, kinesthetic students prefer to manipulate objects (Al-Failkawei, 2005). They like to touch what they want to learn. For example, if the teacher is conducting a lesson about the human body the teacher can bring models of parts of the human body like the face, arms or abdomen. The teacher can allow the students to touch the parts of the human body. Moreover, kinesthetic students have a special way to learn, which means that the teachers can get students to participate in a lot of activities (Al-Failkawei, 2005). One important fact to add about this kind of learners is that they like to learn and explore new things.
The kinesthetic learner is often more comfortable with the quiet voices and low music (Al-Failkawei, 2005). He/she does more stuff with hands or things that he/she can work with or touch rather than cognitive mental activities (Al-Failkawei, 2005). They are more sensitive too. Nouns that attract their attentions are: feelings, touch, holding, tough, soft, solid, etc (Al-Takriti, 1997). Verbs that attract their attention are: get angry, take patience, feel that, insult etc (Al-Takriti, 1997). Kinesthetic learners like field trips. When they read they like to act out the scenes.
Kinesthetic learners remember events (Al-Banai, 2001). They also manage and organize their works by putting clear cut steps and they like to put their hands in the work they are leading (Al-Banai, 2001). They also learn better via three dimensional objects (Al-Banai, 2001).
Technology that can help the kinesthetic students in learning is technology that allows them to manipulate tools in the classroom. For example, teachers can allow their students to use I-Mate PDA phones, iPods, laptops, electronic boards, electronic pens, and electronic dictionaries. According to Susan Holzman in her Ph.D. dissertation about reading English as a foreign language with an electronic dictionary: An exploratory study of the processes of L2 classroom reading by L1 Hebrew speaking college students in Israel, students can learn English better with English electronic dictionary than the students who do not use it (Holzman, 2000). Therefore, electronic dictionaries can help kinesthetic students by touching buttons.
Smart watches and learning styles
Now some watches are do more than just tell time. The smart watches allow to the users to know their heart-rate monitors, use training software, and use GPS. These watches will help students learn better.
For example, the Suunto X6-HR is a powerful watch that has many functions inside it like “a heart-rate monitor with an altimeter in a slick package that's water-resistant for 100 meters” (CNET, n.d.). This watch will help the kinesthetic learners to use it when they are on their geographic field trip or when they do some exercises in their physical education class. Moreover, this watch can give the users a chance to analyze and compare their exercise results by using activity manger software (CNET, n.d.).
The second example is The Timex Bodylink. This watch can help the visual and auditory learners to learn by seeing and listening to the heart rate (CNET, n.d.). Also, it has GPS that can show the learners distances (CNET, n.d.). Furthermore, the students can download their data from the watches to their laptops by using USB (CNET, n.d.).
Finally, a watch like Suunto has functions that allows the user to obtain the news from their watches. This will help the auditory learner get the news and discuss it with their classmates and teachers in the class (Krakow, 2004). For example, the students can receive information from a variety of news headline like business news, international news, entertainment news, and health news (Krakow, 2004).
PDA and learning styles
The PDA is personal digital assistance. The PDA has many functions, including a calendar, appointment book, calculator, and notepad. The PDA can also have a web browser, fax, computing, and telephone.
The PDA can support the kinesthetic learners by providing to them touchable screen and some the PDA devices have a keyboard. A new emerging technology is the virtual key which can be provided by a little piece that will throw infrared on a hard surface showing a virtual keyboard that can be used an input device.
In addition, some of the PDA devices have voice recognition. The voice recognition will help the auditory learners record their voices or their lectures so that they can play the recordings later at their own convenience. By using IBM's WebSphere Everyplace Multimodal Environment, students can search the information by using the voice recognition. For example, if the students wants to do a research about the tress in the state of Indiana they just need to say “the tress in state of Indiana” (Malykhina, 2006).
Moreover, the visual learners can use the PDA to draw pictures, or they can use it to create a concept map by using notepad (Shally, Cashman, Gunter, and Gunter, 2006). Also, they can download pictures from the internet. It is a good idea for the English teacher to give their visual learners a game like Word Puzzles. This game teaches the students spelling in way that is fun (Tomlinson, 2003). Smart Board and learning styles
Teachers can use the smart board to support the students’ learning styles. For example, the English teachers can use the smart board to help the kinesthetic students to learn vocabulary. English teachers can write words or sentences and the students can edit them (School District of Waukesha, n.d.).
Moreover, the smart board can help the auditory learners to learn a word's spelling by adding the word's pronunciation in the lesson. By listening to the words, the students should write what they listen to on the smart board.
Finally, the visual learners can learn better with smart board by using the electronic pens to draw or put some lines, shapes, and pictures. For example, the History teachers can write a list of words that has countries and states on the smart board, and the students underline the states with a red line and the countries with a blue line. The visual students will enjoy this kind of activity.
InterWrite School Pad and learning styles
It is a wireless technology that covers 300 feet. Students using graphic tablets can do editing on any presentation. Also, it can interact with the smart board (Folsom Lake Collage, n.d.). An example of these school pads is the InterWrite School Pad 400. The good thing about the InterWrite School Pad for students and teachers is, they can use it in the same time.
Although similarities may take place between the uses of the interwrite school pad and the smart board, there are many features in the school pad that make it unique. One of these is that it helps increase the interaction level among students and also the interaction between students and the teacher. School pad is user friendly and very easy to use by little kids in K-12 schools. A student can circle a concept or an idea on the board and another one can highlight another at the same time while they are all sitting in their place. Visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners will use it as effectively as the smart board, but with more interaction.
One very helpful activity using a school pad is getting students to build up a story where one starts and others follow. Each will write one sentence that connects to a previous one. In fact, a creative teacher can even divide his/her class into groups representing the three learning styles. For example, while the visual ones will write the story, the auditory will read it and the kinesthetic will act it out.
iPod and learning styles
Most of the students have an iPod. The iPod can support the three learning styles. It allows to the kinesthetic learners to touch the screen. Also, the iPod allows to the auditory students to listen to the audio files. In addition it will help the visual to see and download pictures. A company like Kaplan concerns about learning styles. Kristen Campbell, the national director of SAT and ACT programs for Kaplan, said “Learning styles have changed a lot since Stanley Kaplan founded Kaplan in 1938” (Aspan, 2007). Now Kaplan creates practice test for SAT that students can download it in their iPod (Aspan, 2007). These practice test costs $4.99 to download, and has about 1,000 questions (Aspan, 2007).
Video games and learning styles
Video games provide the learner with real environment that gives the students chance to stimulate what they want to learn. Now, there are many examples of using the video games in school. According to BBC News many educators do not use video games in learning. They think this kind of technology is only for fun and does not benefit their children. This point of view is wrong. According to many researchers, children can learn more effectively when they play video games than when they read books. Dr. David Lewis conducted a research on the MediEvil 2 historical game which is about the history of Victorian London. He found that the children can understand this story better by playing the game more than by reading the book (BBC News, 2000).
Another example is in the military school, the advancement of computer and video games has evolved enough that they are looked as competent training simulations for soldiers. Educational technologists work with researchers at these production companies to create interactive training technologies to immerse soldiers in realistic situations that actually provide the sounds and sensations of battle. This animated type of simulation is now an accepted method of training amongst military personnel (Carlson, 2006). Today, video games can help many students improve their learning styles.
Video games can help visual students by allowing for pictures and other visual aides to be used on the screen. The new games that work on Playstation 3, Xbox, or Nintendo Wii have a high resolution and the characters in these games look as if they were real.
Also, the resolution of these games is very high which allows students to interact with the game as if they were in a real situation. For example, the Playstation 3 “can output high-definition video for both video games and movies via an HDMI 1.3 port, supporting up to 1080p HD resolution” (Wikipedia, n.d.).
Video games that can help auditory students in learning are video games that allow them to hear other voices during the class. Games like Guitar Hero 3 will help the auditory students to use the guitar as video games. The music teachers can use this kind of games to teach their students how to use the guitar. Guitar Hero 3 has seventy three songs (Newsweek, 2007). Some of these songs are "Welcome to the Jungle" and "Even Flow" (Newsweek, 2007). Also, Guitar Hero 3 has four levels of difficulty. It starts from the easiest to the most difficult (Newsweek, 2007).
Video games that can help the kinesthetic students in learning are a technology that allows them to manipulate tools in the class. For example, teachers can allow their students to use Nintendo Wii. The Nintendo Wii will support the kinesthetic learners, because it allows them to move their arms when they play the game. Yoshihiro Mori, senior managing director in Wii Company, said “The way people play with the Wii and the type of games people play are quite different from rival offerings” (Sanchanta, 2007). Also, there are some games that you can play with guns, joystick or with wheel drives kinesthetic. All these kinds of joysticks will support the learning style of the kinesthetic learners, because they can touch objects while they learn. Finally, many joysticks have effects like shaking. For example, if the player is racing a car and he/she hits something the joystick will shake in his/her hands. This will let the learners feel the event more and more.
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Learning Styles (?)
== Sub chapter == Technological-Savvy Learning Styles
It is undoubtedly true to reiterate that the emergence of ICT has indeed opened an era and avenue of modern learning in the acquisition of knowledge which will come very useful and indispensable for the future generation in many years to come. It is something that we are looking for.The impact of technology is great and indeed 'explosive' in nature. It will be a real waste if human beings do not explore beyond this technology path towards advancement and growth of the human race in general. With the advent of information technology, we see realistically its vast influence and impact in students' learning styles. Educators are no longer traditionally bound to their age-old teaching practices and methods/techniques of teaching . They have to improve themselves by being technology-savvy in order to keep pace with the fast changes due to the onset of globalization which I think it is very close to our daily lives. Without it.one will be helpless so to say. What more learners at large. They have to be exposed directly and indirectly in many ways to such innovative and creative learning styles.Henceforth, it is beyond doubt that the learning styles which involved the use of the latest technology have to be introduced directly and indirectly in the early years or stage of learning i.e from kindergartens until the tertiary level of learning irrespectively.Accessibility of knowledge will be easy if such innovative and creative use of technology are fully provided and utilized.At this juncture, I fervently believe that the developed countries will always be at an advantage as compared with the developing or the third world countries. However, I am of the opinion that the third world countries will have no choice but to be responsive, proactive and at the same time be reactive towards such impending changes that can change the whole scenario of the world at large.
Technological Savvy Learning Styles
With the advancement of Information and Technology. learners at large use innumerable computer softwares and gadgets to facilitate learning . They have become virtual learners In such respect, they gradually become autonomous learners. They can work independently . The teachers will act as facilitators in the process of learning and acquiring knowledge.Learning is so much fun as the students are able to pace their process of learning according to their capability, intelligence and knowledge.Similarly,students are widely exposed to the use of latest modern technology which can help them in the process of learning and quest for knowledge.It is a phenomenon that human beings are trying to attain to prepare them for the onset of the 21st century.Henceforth, traditional and obsolete learning styles will have to be replaced with sophisticated and modern technology which cater to the development and needs of the students.
As in Malaysia, we are preparing ourselves for the advancement of Information and Technology which has become the norm in our daily working life as well as an important tool to gain immense knowledge which will become useful for the economic development of the country.Schools nowadays are equipped with the latest modern technology for students to be able to access the internet. We have 'smart schools' which were established to cater to the diverse needs of the students.Under the smart school concept, learning is made more interesting and meaningful as it involves students' mind, spirit and body holistically.Furthermore,computer technology in the 'smart school' system has allowed for flexibility and diversity to be built into the Malaysian curriculum.It is through such provision of multimedia technology that learning is made more self-directed, individually-paced, continuous, and reflective in the long run.By recognizing that there are varied learning needs,the 'smart schools' are then able to ensure that students are stretched to the fullest potential in the learning pace and style that are best suited to them.It is from such context that we could see the existence of freedom and flexibility in learning on the part of students. Students are exposed to the usage of the latest technology with the help of competent IT teachers who will impart the knowledge to them and at the same time help and guide the students accordingly. The process of teaching and learning has become so easy,fun, interesting and challenging as they try to explore and discover the wide realm of knowledge which is a prerequisite for them and the country at large.
Recently,( 22 December 2007 )in a bid to enhance the learning environment in schools, the Malaysian Education Ministry and Microsoft Malaysia had launched 'Generasi-M' which stands for progressive , information ,virtual.mobile .interactive, multimedia, modular and easy respectively There are six core elements under such programme.They are as follows:-
1. The provision of Robotic Studio Development Tools for schools.
2. Student Technology Enabler Pilot,which will be used to drive the usage of information and communications technology(ICT) among younger students and those from rural schools.
3. Student Ambassador Programme which will allow Malaysian students to interact with their peers around the world through homestay programmes. LIVE@EDU,wherein Malaysian school students will be provided with a personalised online Id that will be hosted on MICROSOFT LIVE Hotmail thus allowing five million Malaysian students access to 5GB of e-mails,blogs, instant messaging,online storage and space and other internet tools.
4.BOARD of the future, which will comprise a group of primary and secondary school students who will work together with educators to enhance student programmes in schools.
5.DIGITAL readinessi Microsoft Unlimited Potential Group senior vice-president Orlando Ayala said that the programme was about realising the full potential of an individual . It is considered the best ultimatum for students to learn by themselves.Furthermore, the Microsoft also announced that it would be adopting 10 Malaysian schools under the 'Generasi-M' initiative.At the moment, two primary schools were chosen They were 'SK Taman Megah' and 'SK Cyberjaya'.It is envisaged such programme will be extended to rural schools so that they can benefit such initiative.
Not forgetting the rural areas in Malaysia, the Ministry of Education has come out with the strategic National Education Blueprint 2006-2010 which focuses on improving the education of the country.As stated in the blueprint's report card, there is an ongoing nationwide deployment of smart school teaching concepts, materials, skills and technologies to schools, including broadband internet access through the SchoolNet project.The expansion of 'TV Pendidikan' (education television) through Web TV, meanwhile has enabled schools to access programmes 'on demand' through the Internet.To ensure that the rural students are not left out with the advent of Information and Technology.Adequate resources are being provided so that they have equal opportunity to acquire vast amount of knowledge, too.According to firstname.lastname@example.org, the Malaysia's Higher Education Ministry will allocate RM15mil to train 4,000 students in Information and Communication Technology(ICT)this year i.e.2007.
It is envisaged that Malaysia will achieve greater success in the near future with its quick realisation of the impact of technology on the lives of its people. Hopefully, the economy of the country will change and develop accordingly so that Malaysians can attain the fruit of success.Furthermore, there is a concerted effort on the part of the Malaysian government to tap the potential of IT to the fullest.It is for this ultimate reason that Malaysia is now restructuring its education sector towards betterment and improvement in tandem with the fast changes that take place globally.It is hoped by having such foresight, Malaysia will be able to able to enhance its students' learning styles in accordance with the advancement of technology as it is believed that human capital is an asset that needs to be fully tapped for the development of the country.
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Web 2.0 and the Visually Impaired Learners
The emergence of Web 2.0 technologies has created opportunities for the visualization of much information on the web. It is, therefore, one of the empowering sources for learning, or so-called e-learning 2.0 (Downes, 2005). Educators are starting to explore the potential of blogs, media-sharing services and other social software - which, although not designed specifically for e-learning, can be used to empower students and create exciting new learning opportunities. During the past few years, Web technology has been rapidly developed in order to increase its functionalities and design; however, this might indirectly increase more barriers to another group of users. To put it differently, those for whom the Web is inaccessible for whatever reason will become increasingly excluded from mainstream life if it is not made accessible to them. The way this information is presented may mean that it is difficult, or impossible, for people with various forms of disability to access it. A visual on a screen is of no use to someone who is blind. Nonetheless, there are many solutions for this problem today and hopefully even more in the near future.
This paper will start with the general idea that links the Web 2.0 to the impact of online communication and interaction on persons with disabilities. Then the necessary information about the computer/Internet use and the visually impaired will be described to serve as background knowledge for educators and practitioners in the mainstreamed settings. Next, we will move on with practical implications of Web 2.0 toward visually impaired learners. In this section, a definition of accessibility will be discussed as well as its impeded features that prevent these groups of people to access web sites. A final section provides a roundup of worrying trends that have arisen from the Web 2.0. After that, some solutions to these problems are proposed.
Impact of online communication and interaction on persons with disabilities
Bowker and Tuffin (2003) had conducted studies that aim to explore the cultural world which disabled people access when they participate in online conversations. Findings reveal that the visual anonymity associated with online interaction, which lacks of social context information (including status cues and non-verbal behavior) in online communication, encourages more equal levels of participation. People with disabilities have the potential to participate in social interaction beyond the stigma of a disabled identity.
Such positive findings for online environments is at least partially due to the fact that visual ontology powerfully affects how bodies may be seen and judged. Through the online communication, the physical differences are neutralized by the visual anonymity. The lack of visual cues may be interpreted as the “non-disclosure” and the disabled gain a sense of personhood within an able-bodied framework or “normality.” To put it simply, this demonstrates that the non-disclosure was operated to preclude negative reactions and prejudice against disabled people. The Internet’s potential helps eliminate discrimination that exists in the context of a real-world social environment in which discrimination still prevails. Therefore, the disabled are more likely to achieve equality. Moreover, the idea that identity can be constructed according to the demands of the situation is a powerful framework for disabled people, because it permits a creative space for developing ideas about the self (Bowker & Tuffin, 2003).
The impact of computer/internet on the visually impaired
Before starting the discussion, I offer a brief definition and explanation of visual impairments in order to enhance understanding of it.
The term 'visual impairment' covers a wide variety of conditions; some present since birth and some resulting from gradual deterioration of sight. Visual impairments include low vision and blindness, or there are many aspects of seeing. Low vision is used to describe a loss of visual acuity while retaining some vision. “Blindness, on the other hand, usually refers to a complete lack of vision. People who are considered "legally blind" may have some useful vision." (World Health Organization, 2002; DO-IT Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technolog project, 2005).
From the above definition, it is understood, in order to qualify as visually impaired, an individual does not necessarily need to be blind or have really severe loss of vision. These visually impaired people, therefore, depend more on receiving information from other sources other than their sight. For instance, computers have increasingly played a great role as the tools for communication. The Internet or WWW is a valuable source that responds to this special need. In addition, Web 2.0 technology allows the blind not only to receive information, but also offers them to easily exchange their opinions with the wider world.
Apart from the benefit of information access, computers and the internet also have a great benefit in terms of social interaction. Computers and the internet help the visually impaired have a greater sense of community and of social networks than they had previously been able to do (Gerber, 2003). Besides, it is obvious that computer-mediated communication (CMC) plays a great role in assisting them to access information independently. Unlike in the past, most of the visually impaired had to depend on others, especially family members and friends, as the important resources (Williamson et al, 2001). Nevertheless, in order to make use of those devices, assistive technology is extremely essential. The primary examples of these technology and equipments are magnification programs for the computer screen, synthetic speech systems, optical character recognition (OCR), Braille display, note takers, and so on. Moreover, Internet via the Web would be a great resource; the visually impaired can gain access provided by this communication channel if only it is made compatible to available technologies which enlarge text or convert the information to audible or tactile media. Recently, a haptic interface has become popular and can be an alternative.
Having known broadly the roles and impact of computers and the Internet on the visually impaired, next I will examine the specific use of such technologies in a real context.
Practical implications of Web 2.0 toward visually impaired learners
It is claimed that the Internet or Web is a major medium for e-learning. Moreover, with high functionalities of the Web 2.0, learners can use this medium as a tool to effectively increase their learning both in the formal and non-formal education. For learners with visual impairments, as stated earlier, the Web 2.0 contributes to the equal access to information. In addition, it helps to promote social interaction among these people in the mainstream society. On the other hand, the design of the Web 2.0 and many online courses actually erects barriers to participation by students with disabilities (Coombs, 2000). This leads to the concept of accessibility. The accessibility and usability are critical issues for users with visual impairments, and it is widely discussed in the Web development community as will be described in the next section.
What is web accessibility?
Web accessibility means that “people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web, and that they can contribute to the Web” (Web Accessibility Initiative, 2008). A far wider remit is taken than saying that a Web site is accessible simply because any potentially excluded group can access it. An accessible web site must be sufficiently flexible to be used by the assistive technologies. To put it simply, an accessible Website means that the Web can be used by all, but it must also mean that it is easy to use by all and should not be labor intensive or arduous. Accessibility should not mean that the user will be able to use some software if they spend two days wrestling with it and learning how to make it work (Zajicek, 2007).
Web 2.0 and E-learning for visually impaired learners
In terms of e-learning, the concept of web accessibility includes other Content management systems (CMS) (e.g., WebCT Vista, BlackBoard, Lotus Notes, Moodle, FirstClass, VirtualU, Desire2Learn, etc.) and other e-learning systems, (e.g. virtual learning environments, digital repositories, multimedia, web portals, discussion boards). As a result, learning technologists play a great role in developing their web sites and systems to be accessible. Below are some guidelines and principles for web accessibility.
Accessibility guidelines and standards
Currently, there are a lot of both national and international guidelines, standard, and legislation to insure the rights to access information of persons with disabilities. The most well known and perhaps influential accessibility guidelines are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) (Brewer, 2004). A list of checkpoints is provided that explains how the guidelines apply to typical content development scenarios. Each checkpoint also has a priority level assigned based on the checkpoint's impact on accessibility. The guidelines also define three "levels of conformance" where at Conformance Level "Triple-A” all Priority 1, 2 and 3 checkpoints are satisfied. The guideline is based on the concept of “universal design."
Regarding law and legislation, a number of countries have influenced the accessibility design practices of both education and non-education organizations. In the United States, perhaps the most influential legislation has been the 1998 amendment to the Rehabilitation Act (US Department of Labor, 1973), called Section 508, which includes guidance for determining the accessibility of information technology as well as enforcement procedures. Section 508 requires federal agencies to purchase electronic and information technology that is accessible to employees with disabilities. In addition, to the extent that those agencies provide information technology to the public, it too has to be accessible by persons with disabilities.
The unresolved issues and worrying trends
Ajax Nowadays Ajax is currently used in various places, such as in Gmail, Google Apps, and some systems used in the workplace to dynamically create pages (Ajax Matters). This causes a real issue for the visually impaired user because a screen reader is unable to track the relevant bits on the page that move (Almaer, 2006). In addition, pages that use Java are also difficult; it can sometimes be got around with the Java Access Bridge. A solution for building accessible Web 2.0 sites is to follow Hijax principles (Keith, 2006), which allow Ajax type dynamic Web pages but enables more accessible development.
Incompatible products In an ideal world, all Web pages should be able to be accessed by any assistive device. However, there are numbers of web sites that do not allow such technologies to be connected. Even if those are accessible web sites, there is no guarantee that innovative products, such as mobile devices, can be used by the visually impaired (Ellis & Kent, 2008). It is hoped that mainstream manufacturers will be able to come up with solutions to these problems. One recommendation is to follow the universal design concepts and accessibility guidelines.
Video streaming and multimedia In the present time, videos are being used more and more in Web 2.0 either to augment or instead of other web content such as YouTube. Additionally, information which is presented simultaneously makes it difficult to interpret using Braille or speech or access using scanning (Treviranus, 2007). This is one of the greatest problems for the blind and deafblind people. The increased use of this media means they are becoming less and less able to access the web. We need to ensure that people do provide text alternatives.
Verification codes Due to the security measure, many web sites require users to put graphical verification codes in order to protect against the fraud access. Such codes can be a barrier for the visually impaired users since these graphical characters can not be read by the screen reader software. Additionally, reliance of too many blurred or hard to read graphics can be problematic for users with low vision. Occasionally, a sound recording is provided for blind users such as in Google or Facebook. This audio system can help to solve this problem, but sometimes, the sound quality is very low and is hard to identify.
Isolation of particular groups While particular disabled groups can gain support and useful information from special community sites, there is a danger of isolation. While Web 2.0 has enormous potential to bring people together it could encourage the formation of isolated groups that do not engage in mainstream activities and who develop their own sub culture which excludes others (Seymour & Lupton, 2004). In the case of visually impaired communities, discussion topics are more likely to deal with eye care, assistive devices, and mainstreamed technologies. It would be better if these forums include sighted people, or are open for the broader society.
The above issues are only some problems and concerns that arise from Web 2.0 development. It is undoubtedly that the numbers of inaccessible features are definitely increasing day-by-day. Although most problems can be solved by following principles of accessibility guidelines and standards, the bottom-line issue is the awareness of web developers and stakeholders who are dealing with the design and have primary control over these features. A good design can not only make visualization accessible, but can also make the information more accessible.
Web 2.0 is available to be used by people in their everyday lives. It also has the potential to open up the world to people with disabilities, and is often presented as a way to eradicate disability as it is socially constructed. On the other hand, it can cause great barriers and inequality if this medium is inaccessible. The Internet cannot be fully accessible until disability is considered a cultural identity in the same way that class, gender and sexuality are. Accessibility is a universal design issue that potentially benefits both those with a disability and the wider community. It requires collaboration from the relevant sectors in order to promote full inclusion in the society.
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