One size does not fit all when it comes to education — learners span a wide range of backgrounds and represent an even broader set of needs and preferences. Fortunately, technology is also making it increasingly easier, faster, and cheaper to cater to the various learning styles and needs, particularly for differently-abled individuals. However, as new tools emerge and innovative technology applications are introduced to teach key educational concepts, options for personalized and accessible learning also expand. Given the ever-growing number of alternative resources and tools, we need to find ways to make it easier to search and discover appropriate educational materials. One way to do this is to develop a central platform that allows users to search across multiple resource collections and apply new search parameters that facilitate search and discovery of personalized learning materials. Furthermore, creating a shared collection also helps minimize redundancies in the production of expensive and time-intensive alternative files, both within and across organizations.
The initial phase of this DIAGRAM Center project began in 2015 and investigated the strengths and fail points of similar products in existence at that time. General research via online survey and in-depth interviews identified possible product models and user needs and generated basic design mockups that would later be used to prototype Benetech Imageshare.
The second phase began in late 2016 and provided a working prototype that tested key questions about how consumers might use and grow the shared collection, particularly concerning common STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) concepts. While initial feedback was positive, there were anticipated limitations in content, architecture, and other aspects not yet designed for scale.
This fall, 2018, we begin the third phase of this project, a beta version of Imageshare, aimed at incorporating feedback from prior phases of research and development. The current version of Imageshare provides a more robust platform that attempts to facilitate content expansion, improve usability, and incorporate user comments and reviews.
Types of collections:
- Repository: a collection of accessible assets such as image descriptions, tactile graphics, and 3D objects, along with ways to upload, search, and download assets.
- Registry: a collection of metadata, possibly containing a uniform resource identifier or locator, description, creation, and versioning information that redirects users to such materials.
Types of Users:
- Contributors: content creators who produce alternatives, such as 2D tactile graphics and 3D models, to make images accessible. Contributors are likely to be from Disability Student Services (DSS) staff, special education teachers, teachers of the visually impaired (TVI), accessible media producers (AMP), Open Educational Resources (OER) experts, publishers, service providers, or tinkerers (often parents/friends of an end user)
- Consumers: end users or facilitators likely to search and use accessible image alternatives such as DSS staff, TVIs, special education teachers, tinkers (often parents/friends of an end user), or the actual end user
While we recognize parents and students as potential power users (consumers) who can benefit most from such a resource, the decision was made to focus our design and outreach to audiences that are likely to contribute and consume content from an accessible collection. The hope is that such a network would not only use the tool, but also help grow a collection of quality resources that have been tested and proven to work for learners with special needs and preferences.
Here is our initial list of target users:
- Special education teachers – educators in mainstream schools who work directly with students with various disabilities
- Teachers of the visually impaired (TVIs) – educators who specialize in working with students with visual impairments, including blindness
- DSS staff / AMP – production experts who support students on learning about accessibility tools and accessing specialized materials (e.g., tactile graphics, large braille)
- Parent of a person with a disability – friends and family members of a student with a special need
- Benetech / DIAGRAM Team – developers of Imageshare and other inclusive education tools that aim to make STEM materials accessible for students with various disabilities
- What is the critical mass of STEM topics and resources required for this project to take off?
- Will community members contribute files to this collection?
- Will consumers of the files share their experiences and feedback about the usability of the resources with end users?
- Are there particular mediums that are particularly useful for all learners?
- What other types of resources and accommodations should we consider testing with learners?
- How do we ensure quality is maintained going forward?
- How might we modify existing resources to address the specific needs of audiences not previously addressed (e.g., 3D models for students who struggle with attention; embossed tactile graphics for learners with cognitive disabilities)
- How might we connect Imageshare more closely with other collections using a registry model (e.g., building APIs with partners)?
- What types of production services might we consider providing to educators and consumers (e.g., library management, printing services, file customization)?
How You Can Help
- Contribute content to the collection
- Test resources with special needs students
- Provide feedback on the resources after reviewing them with students
- Recruit teachers and students who can help pilot these the resources
- Recommend additional repositories and partners that the DIAGRAM Center can work with
- Help special education teachers print, customize, or setup maker spaces