Volume VI Number 1, April 1999

Enhancing Web Instruction: Using Streaming Audio And Video

Norman Coombs, Ph.D.
Richard Banks

Computer superstores and computer mail order companies are selling multimedia computers at very competitive prices. It is difficult to purchase a new computer that isn't equipped for video and audio. Web sites for radio and television stations are coming on-line daily.

Classroom computers are frequently multimedia machines because of the rich software and content on today's educational CD-ROMs. The ability to reproduce multimedia is no longer a rare high-end product.

This presentation will focus on the uses of streaming audio and video over the web to deliver educational materials in a distance learning format for K-12 and college students. Graphics and animation are already commonly used on web pages to capture the attention of students. The advantage of using audio and video is that these technologies are well suited to content delivery. Beyond catching student attention, audio and video can provide enrich education material. Today's students have been raised on radio and video and are more accustomed to processing such media than they are to read and digest long text content. Moreover, many people do not like reading extensive textual material on the computer monitor. While distance learning has primarily been based in text materials, multimedia holds the promise of being a more effective content delivery mechanism. This presentation itself will be posted in audio on the web after the conference at http://www.rit.edu/~easi.

This presentation has four main objectives:

  1. to demonstrate how to use streaming audio and video.
  2. to demonstrate how this technology enriches instruction.
  3. to demonstrate how audio and video can motivate K-12 and college students
  4. to demonstrate how to make instruction using audio and video fully accessible to students with physical and cognitive disabilities.

Both audio and video can be used in ways to leave out students who are blind, deaf or other sensory processing problems, but they can just as readily be used to fully include students with disabilities into mainstream them into education. Obviously, audio delivery of information can leave the deaf and hard of hearing out in the cold.

Similarly, highly graphical and animated displays can leave blind and low vision students in the dark. Both communities fear the explosion of multimedia. Text materials over the internet have increased the social involvement of the deaf. similarly, with the use of speech synthesis, blind students have gained access to text-based materials as never before. They all viewed the adaptive computer and the information age as a boon to their inclusion into the world.

Now, they frequently find themselves on the outside again. However, when information is digitized, it has the potential of many different display modes. If multimedia makes use of redundant display modes, then it becomes accessible to all. This includes blind, deaf and other sensory processing disabilities. It also is congenial to people with different preferred learning styles. Even more, all people benefit when they are given information in redundant formats.

For example, hearing students watching a captioned video, do better on exams than when they watch the same video without captioning.

The presentation will demonstrate the use of audio and video to deliver educational information with a focus on providing access to the fields of science and math. EASI (Equal Access to Software and Information) has an NSF grant to collect and disseminate this information. Science and math pose many difficulties such as accessing equipment readouts, and multimedia has proven useful using sounds and text displays. Also, math poses a problem for blind and some learning disabled students. Having outputs available in a variety of display modes is one of the solutions.

Audio and video also can carry a powerful and personal message. Sound bites and video clips of professionals with disabilities who are succeeding in science and math serve as motivational material both for students with disabilities and for their parents and teachers. Many surveys have established that negative social attitudes is the primary barrier to students succeeding in these fields. Teachers doubt the ability of students with disabilities to handle these fields. They pass this attitude along to the parents who are desperately searching for help to prepare their children for life. eventually, this cloud of doubt may even reach the student. Many lack self confidence in their abilities. Everyone conspires to get the schools to waive science and math requirements for students with disabilities. by the time a student matures and discovers an interest in math or science, it is too late. without adequate grounding in the early years, students are doomed to failure.

The best answer to these negative attitudes is for people to observe successful professionals working and achieving in science, math and other professional fields. While there are thousands of scientists with disabilities, the probability of a student, parent or teacher meeting one is slim. Multimedia over the internet is a significant and inexpensive way to expose the world to such role models. Several organizations have videos demonstrating this point, but getting these videos out to the public is a challenge. A persuasive video in a warehouse does little to impact society. But, putting such materials on the internet and into the public domain is now a reality. Regular television broadcasting is one way to reach the public, but it is extremely expensive. Webcasting and web archiving of video and audio materials is the least expensive way to impact society's attitudes.

Granted, many do no yet have internet access, but the kind of technologically aware people we need to reach in this case are the ones most likely to be internet connected.

The presentation will demonstrate some of the skills and techniques needed to design audio and video for the web. A beginners knowledge of web technology and of HTML will help participants follow this portion of the presentation. The first skills portion of the presentation will briefly outline the principles of universal design as they apply to creating web pages that can be read and navigated by anyone. EASI provides an online workshop which gives a more in-depth presentation of these principles. Information on EASI's online workshops is at http://www.rit.edu/~easi.

The second skill which will be presented deals with how to take recorded or live audio and video and turn it into digitized formats.

This can be stored and accessed on the web. Digitized information can be stored in ways that are largely display independent. Later, they can be displayed in a variety of modes.

The presentation will feed portions of both audio and video cassettes into the software demonstrating how to prepare and upload such files.

Two different systems will be demonstrated. Real Networks provides Real Publisher to let anyone create audio and video. It also provides Real Player, both a free and for purchase version, which enables people to play back the presentations. Emblaze is the other web multimedia that EASI is presently using for audio and video. It also provides software to create web audio or video. In this case, the person wanting to play the multimedia does not need special software to access it. The player is embedded in the actual audio or video web page in the form of a mini program that is downloaded to you along with the actual content. However, it does require a web browser that is java enabled in order to play the multimedia.

EASI itself delivers workshops using distance learning technologies.

These workshops have reached over a thousand people in over thirty countries. Originally, these workshops relied entirely on text content. They use both e-mail and the web. Now, the workshops are being enhanced with multimedia. Not only do we believe it enriches the value of our courses, but EASI wants to help demonstrate the use of multimedia in ways that are inclusive rather than exclusive.

ADAPT-IT is a six-week course providing an overview to the topic of adaptive computing and is ideal for administrators, teachers, librarians, computer support staff, ADA compliance officers and service providers. It focuses on how to set up computing technology and services for individuals with disabilities. Taught by Banks and Coombs who have consulted extensively on adaptive technology and information access. this workshop has been revised and enhanced in 1998 to include text assignments and web assignments. New material related to special education and students in K-12 has also been included.

EASI-SEM provides current information on making science, math and engineering more accessible to persons with disabilities. The four-week workshop discusses the unique barriers to SEM disciplines and also describes both simple access solutions and new technologies for accessing math and tactile graphics. The course development was funded by a National Science Foundation grant and includes the textbook, Information Access and Adaptive computing plus videotapes and manuals developed for the project. The course instructor is Carmela Cunningham.

EASI-WEB is a workshop on how to create web pages that are both visually appealing and fully accessible to users with print disabilities. This workshop is largely self-instruction and self-paced, but it also includes easy interaction with instructors and other HTML learners. The workshop includes the most recent enhancements to the HTML code especially its accessibility features.

The section on using multimedia on the web is introductory as that topic merits a workshop itself. Information on these workshops can be found on the web at http://www.rit.edu/~easi

EASI believes that skillful use of multimedia can enhance and enrich communication. Some web design features primarily serve a function of making a page more appealing or making it catch the surfers'attention. Frequently these tricks do not contribute to content delivery itself. but, if multimedia enriches the communication, then it actually improves the teaching, improves the delivery of content.

If the design focuses on enhancing content and not on merely catching attention, then, almost without thinking about people with disabilities, the design will automatically communicate to everyone.

To look at it the other way, when a teacher focuses on communicating to students with disabilities, the communication will be clearer for everyone.

Coombs, N. & Banks, R. (1999). Enhancing web instruction: Using streaming audio and video. Information Technology and Disabilities E-Journal, 6(1).