Special Projects for Teaching Students
Disabilities at College of Staten Island
For more than a decade the
College of Staten Island has conducted applied research in the
field of teaching students with disabilities. Currently, CSI faculty
and staff are actively involved in three focus areas: using technology
to teach blind and visually impaired students, the focus of the
Multimedia Tactile Graphics Laboratory; using technology for teaching
deaf and hard of hearing students, the major focus of the Regional
Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students; and applied research
in academic achievement of students with special needs, the focus
of the research of Professor Nelly Tournaki, Department of Education.
The following is a brief description of each project.
Multimedia Tactile Graphics Laboratory
at the College of Staten Island
Vice President Michael E. Kress
Professors Bernard Domanski and Albert A. Blank, Department of
The purpose of this facility
is to enable students with visual impairments to apprehend graphics
directly with little or no dependence upon sighted readers. Blind
students seeking education and a career in science, mathematics,
engineering and technology have faced a formidable barrier, not
the intrinsic difficulty of the subject matter alone, obstacle
enough for most students, but the substantial graphical component
of typical courses in these disciplines. There are two major aspects
of that graphical component: primarily, the representation of
geometrical objects; secondly, the presentation of data in the
form of graphs. In collaboration with the Computer Center for
Visually Impaired People at Baruch College, the laboratory at
CSI has developed the capability of designing and manufacturing
large tabloid-sized graphic drawings in low relief that can be
read by touch. The features of the drawing are captioned in Braille
and, by means of computer accessories, with sound clips on demand,
are read by touch.
The laboratory is unique in deploying the technology to an extended
course of study, Calculus with Computer Assisted Tactile Graphics,
planned explicitly and in detail to meet the needs of students
who are visually impaired. The calculus was chosen for this purpose
because it is the basic entry course in advanced quantitative
fields and creates a new kind of educational environment. The
development of the course is essentially complete and has been
tested by blind assistants. Dissemination is now the foremost
objective. The course web site is approximately half completed:
It contains the text in print and audio formats and, separately,
the graphics. The figures can be downloaded and copied on a special
paper that permits the details to be raised by heating in an infrared
oven. Means of providing audio captions to be downloaded with
the drawings are now being devised. The web site is being refined
to improve accessibility and ease of use. One of the major uses
of the web site will be to obtain, interactively with users, a
summative evaluation of the materials.
In addition to the drawings for the calculus course, the laboratory
has provided tabloid-sized tactile graphics for a project with
Purdue University, An Audiotactile General Chemistry Course.
Professor Blank has acted as adviser and the laboratory has provided
tactile graphics for TouchGraphics, Inc. in its development of
the Talking Tactile Computer and Talking Tactile Tablet.
We are mindful of the need for deployment of our tactile graphics
and assistive access technology across the entire educational
range, K-16 and beyond. The larger goal of our program is to make
it easy for anyone to write audiotactile materials for any educational
level and, not incidentally, to reduce its cost. The creation
of the calculus web site is a first step in that direction. We
plan to begin dissemination within the CUNY system by distributing
samples of the calculus materials to offices for disability services
in all the colleges. We will initiate collaborative efforts with
teachers of blind students throughout the system to help them
use the course as a supplement or embed it in their teaching.
Multimedia Regional Center for Deaf
and Hard of Hearing Students
Margaret Venditti, Maryellen Smolka and David Vamadevan
This facility was established
in 1994 with funds by a New York State Assembly member line item
introduced by Assemblywoman Elizabeth Connelly and Assemblyman
Eric Vitaliano, with support from Senator John Marchi and other
legislators. The following outlines a number of the projects conducted
at the Center that focus on using technology for more effective
classroom communications for deaf and hard of hearing students.
- In the early 90s, the
College of Staten Island began to explore ways to enhance learning
for deaf and hard of hearing students. One of the first forms
of technology that we used was speech to text. At that time,
DragonDictate 1.0 was the only software available for voice-recognition.
It was challenging and laborious to train with this primitive
- We then looked into another
technology called C-Note. C-Note required the use of two laptop
computers wired together. Two students, one deaf and one hearing,
were placed next to each other. The hearing student would type
a synopsis of what the professor was saying; the text would
appear on the deaf student’s laptop. If the deaf student
had questions or comments, he/she would type it out on his/her
computer and that would appear on the hearing student’s
monitor. That was a good step but, for various reasons, it was
cumbersome to implement in the classroom.
- Next, we looked at electronic
note-taking using a pen-based computer. A hearing student would
take notes by writing on a tablet. The notes would then be displayed
on a large screen monitor. This type of technology presented
several challenges. First, there was the difficulty of setting
up the electronic equipment and assuring that it was operational
before the beginning of each class. Secondly, there was the
frequent problem of finding the right person to serve as the
note-taker as a complement to the deaf student. This technology
was phased out in the mid 90s.
- Parallel to the work at
CSI, the National Technical Institute for the Deaf was developing
a real time computer aided speech-to-print transcription program,
C-Print. The technology involved a typist, C-print captionist,
who typed the instructor’s lecture into a laptop using
an abbreviated software program that reduced the keystrokes
and condensed the text. The typed information was displayed
in standard American English on a second laptop for the student
to read. A CSI staff member was trained in C-Print at Rochester
Institute of Technology in 1999. However, the software was changed
because of copyright problems and we were unable to implement
C-Print on our campus.
- In spring 2001, CSI initiated
the “See and Learn” project using voice recognition
technology to provide real-time notes to hard of hearing students.
Excellent progress has been made with this project and it is
currently one of the major focus areas.
- Electronic note taking
using tablet computers is also an active area of research. A
pilot project is planned for spring semester; it combines the
features of C-Note and our earlier experience with pen computers
and wireless connections.
The See Learn Project
To date, this project has gone through many phases. One of the
phases included utilizing a system in which a captionist, who
had trained with the voice recognition software, would sit in
a remote location while listening to an instructor’s lecture.
The instructor would wear a lapel microphone and be connected
to a wireless telephone system. The captionist had access to the
entire lecture through the phone line. The lecture was repeated
verbally into the computer using the software. Through a wireless
network the lecture would then appear on the student’s laptop.
This was a successful springboard for a system we are currently
using. In fall semester 2003, another phase took place in which
the captionist sat in a classroom using a “mask type”
microphone and repeated the lecture (with more than 98%) accuracy.
The lecture would then appear, in text, on a laptop in the classroom.
A student evaluation form was distributed at the end of the semester
and all responses were positive.
Our goal since the inception
of this project has been to train faculty in the use of the software,
eliminating the need for the captionist. Identifying faculty who
are committed to working with this project will be addressed in
the coming spring semester.
Academic Achievement of Students
with Special Needs
Professor Nelly Tournaki, Department of Education
The following outlines areas
of research conducted by Professor Tournaki.
- Applied research in improving
the academic achievement of students with special needs in the
areas of reading and mathematics; improving classroom behavior
of students with special needs through their involvement in
- Exploring the assumption
that not all teachers can teach all students, a series of research
articles are available that examine the interaction of teacher
characteristics with student characteristics. General and special
educators have been compared in an attempt to find out whether
more efficacious teachers deal differently with such student
characteristics as achievement, attentiveness, classroom behavior,
and gender, than less efficacious teachers. Significant differences
have been found between general and special educators and these
results are currently being analyzed.