College of Staten Island
 The City University of New York

Special Projects for Teaching Students
with 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 Computer Science

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 software.
  • 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 peer-tutoring.
  • 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.