We will do all we can to make sure that the relationship that you have with The Open University is a positive one.
We will do all we can to treat you as an individual, whether you are contacting to give us some good news or to raise a problem. Please also be assured that we will not share, sell or give your details to anyone.
The current state of the art in digital audio and desktop computing means that the real-time generation of rich audio virtual environments (AVEs) is now possible. Work is ongoing towards the application of such AVEs within education, with a key target group being blind students.
The overall objectives for the research are:
- To provide the foundation scientific and technical research needed to enable the development of a system, for an educational context, that facilitates the computer generation of 3-dimensional AVEs.
- To demonstrate and evaluate the application of 3D AVEs in giving access for people with a visual impairment to current and emerging approaches in educational multi-media and computer based learning.
Audio Virtual Environments
Much promise has been held up, and some demonstrated, for the application of virtual worlds in education. The ability to learn through exploring worlds that would be otherwise inaccessible because of their size, location, time-scale or dangerous nature is attractive and offers potential benefit at all levels of education. This has applications in a wide range of subject areas; a few examples could include:
- exploration of atomic structures, the solar system, or observation of magnetic field patterns
- hypermedia stories and social or language learning scenarios
- exploration within the human body, intracellular processes, bio-tech procedures
- staged development of practical skills
Now if this approach and its associated benefits is to be extended to visually impaired sighted students then the creation of rich audio virtual worlds that faithfully convey what is conventionally offered in the visual medium is needed. There is still much basic research towards the practical implementation of such audio worlds. This is particularly the case as the target is that these implementations will be readily achieved in the classroom or student\'s home with minimal specialised and only relatively low cost computing and audio facilities. This is the context of an ongoing collaborative work between the Multi-media and Enabling Technology Group at the Open University and the Sensory Disabilities Research Unit at the University of Hertfordshire.
Advances in Human Computer Interaction
The creation of rich audio virtual environments also presents the opportunity of realising audio user interfaces with comparable complexity and utility to standard GUIs. Thus the approach holds the potential of enhanced access to the ubiquitous GUI based software for sight impaired computer users. Thus the work has implications far beyond educational applications of virtual environments.
The researchers maintain that is not appropriate to just translate the metaphors common in GUIs (i.e. the desk top/office metaphor spatially arranged according to the limits of the VDU) to an audio representation of the same. Vision is a spatially dominant sense, where as hearing is predominantly temporal and the spatial acuity of the 2 modalities is very different. Recognising these issues empirical work is to be undertaken to evaluate alternative metaphors with the aim of improving the human computer interaction especially for visually impaired people.