Deaf Children Interface Requirements For E Learning Education Essay

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Deaf people suffer from lack or complete loss in the ability for hearing [1]; therefore, designing interfaces that are user-friendly for them is not an easy task. An effective user experience can be designed to handle the needs of deaf people. This will eliminate the problems that may face deaf peoples when interacting with common interfaces where their needs are not taken into consideration.

Further, e-learning programs plays big role in teaching deaf children. The reason of that is e-learning programs are available to every student who seeks information that is available when needed. Thus, it can help deaf children to learn new vocabulary, mathematics and literacy skills at any time that suites them. E-learning programs can also increase deaf children independence, confidence, motivation and social contact. However, it is important that their e-learning programs be as deaf-friendly as possible. To do so, the developers of those programs need to understand deaf users' capabilities and needs. One way to achieve this is by involving deaf children in both of the design process and the test process of the e-learning program. There are many testing methods that are developed to test interfaces with children [2-6], however, we are not sure whether those methods can be applied for deaf children.

This paper primarily focuses on finding user interface requirements for e-learning programs built for deaf children. In addition, several testing methods are experienced to determine whether they are effective to be used with deaf children. This was done by testing a tool designed by ReDSOFT team with seven to nine years old deaf children.

2. Related Work

Hearing children build their speaking skills mainly by listening to their parents talking and communicating. It is difficult for a child to learn how to communicate at later ages. Same thing applies to deaf children; if a deaf child did not learn how to use the sign language and other basic words at early ages, it will be difficult for that child to learn how to do so when he/she get older. Moreover, statistics in [7] shows that most deaf children have poor reading and writing skills, which yields to the fact that most deaf students finish high school with fourth-grade reading and writing skills except for about 7-10% of them whom have reading skills beyond that. Further, about 20% of deaf students drop out of school while they have second-grade or below reading skills. In addition, since 90% of deaf children have parents that can hear, most of those parents do not know how to use the sign language. It is essential to have a software tool that teaches adults how to use sign language in order to communicate with others whom having hearing disabilities.

Many software tools were developed to help deaf children learn the sign language and some basic vocabularies. Deaf users use these tools to communicate and learn in despite of their age. Speech to Text [8] is an example of an intelligent user interface that converts voice to text. It is useful in real-time conversations especially if the deaf person is a student in a lecture. For example, it can convert the professor speech to text during the whole lecture, which makes the lecture understood easier by the deaf student. However, this method has a serious problem in its accuracy. This is because different people have different voices and tones. Further, [9] described a text to speech convertor. It converts the conversion from text to voice. Unlike regular "Text To Speech" software that produces very unnatural voice, this type of software improves naturalness by making it able to catch the way a certain person speaks. Another example of a convertor is the iCommunicator described in [10]; it converts speech to text and speech to video sign language. In [11], an opposite convertor is described. Their convertor converts sign language to text then to speech using some sensors integrated with a glove to catch the deaf person hand movement.

In addition to the software tools that help in enhancing the communication processes between hearing and non-hearing people (as described previously), there exist e-learning software tools that are developed to teach deaf children different knowledge. "SEE and SEE" is an example of educational tool for hard hearing children [12]. It is an educational software tool that improves the literacy skills of deaf or hard of hearing children. This software tool provides some adjustable functionality to the teachers so that they can create their own lessons accompany with a sign language video or an image. MathSigner [13] on the other hand, is a software tool used to teach of both deaf students and their parent the sign language for math. A Gesture-Based American Sign Language Game [14], WebSign [15], and Virtual Learning Environment for Deaf Children [16] are more examples of e-learning tools. They are designed to help deaf children develop their language.

Deaf people in the Arab region communicate through a language called Unified Sign Language for Deaf People in the Arab Countries. However, there exist other languages created by some communities in the Arab countries.

The following are two examples of software tools used to teach deaf people the Unified Sign Language: Unified Sign Language Dictionary for Deaf People in Kuwait and the Arab Countries and Arabic Sign Language Translation System on Mobile Devices [17]. The Unified Sign Language Dictionary is created by Kuwait Institution for Scientific Research. It is a video-based dictionary that shows the users how to use the Unified Language. The Arabic Sign Language Translation System on Mobile Devices is a mobile application that converts text to sign language. This application provides people with no sign experience an instance help in order to communicate easily with deaf people. Further, there is a lack of tools that teach deaf Arab children the sign language.

3. Deaf E-Learning Prototype

Deaf e-learning prototype created by ReDSOFT team members is used to conduct the experiment. The prototype seeks to study the behavior of deaf children, what do they prefer to be provided in the e-learning programs, and what difficulties they encounter when using these programs. The aim of the experiment is to establish principles and rules to be used in the design of educational programs for children deprived of the gift of hearing. Fig.1 shows the main interface of the prototype.

Fig.1: The main interface for the deaf e-learning prototype

The prototype consists of five tutorials and a quiz the tutorials are: colors' definition, numbers' definition, animals' definition, map, and story. The colors, numbers, and animals' definition presents for children three colors, numbers, and animals respectively identified with how the script is written in Arabic and English, and a video of how to express them in sign language. The map tutorial shows the location of some Arab countries with their flags, and videos that express them in sign language. In the story section, each story consists of small number of words. When a child clicks on a word, a video of how to the express the word in sign language is shown. Finally, the quiz consists of number of questions about the previous tutorials.

4. The Evaluation Test

4.1 Participants

Twenty students (12 males, 8 females) evaluated the e-learning prototype. They ranged in age from seven to nine years old. Some student had partial loss of their hearing and others had a complete loss. Further, 65% of them are using computer at home or have previous experience.

Participants were registered to special education schools specialized for deaf students. Although twenty participants is a small number, but in Kuwait, we have only small number of students who are registered at those schools in the selected range of age.

Teachers also participated in the evaluation process. There comments also were recorded and used in the final writing of the guidelines.

4.2 Survey Techniques

To evaluate our prototype, we used different survey techniques that are proved to be effective in gathering normal child feedbacks. The use of Smiley Meter Scale with children has been demonstrated to have the ability to elicit child opinion regarding an interface/activity by using a rating scale [18]. They indicated that this method is not efficient to be used with young children, however, [19] had tested this method with five and six years old children and they prove that this method is reliable to be used with young children. Further, The Best/Worst table is very effective technique to find which activities are considered the best or the worst. However, [19] found that it is better to use other terminologies than "The Best" and "The Worst". They had suggested to use "like the most" and "like the least" phrases instead. The Again/Again table is also considered reliable when it used with children. This method confirms the results from the Best/Worst table, and therefore, considered a necessarily to be use in combined with Best/Worst table. The Remembrance technique on the other hand, requires that the child draw what he/she remembers from the activities explored. However, this technique needs to be used with caution if applied on young children [19]. Children at younger ages have limited memory and thus may draw activities related to schoolwork rather than activities explored during the experiment.

The previous evaluation surveys cannot be directly applied with deaf children. This is because deaf children at younger ages have limited communicating skills. Teachers' participation in the experiment is a necessarily to reduce the communication problems.

4.3 Evaluation Setup

All evaluation processes are done in the schools' library. Each participant is equipped with a 15" laptop and supervised by one of the evaluators and one of the teachers. During the evaluation process, the teacher translated the conversations between the evaluator and the students.

4.4 Procedure

Before beginning the evaluation process, participants were asked to complete a user background questionnaire, then, the evaluator starts the e-learning prototype and asks the participant about the meaning of each icon in the main interface. After that, the child has the freedom of selecting a tutorial of his/her choice. While the child explores the prototype, the evaluator records the comments about whether or not the child had faced difficulties interacting with the prototype. Further, the child is asked to rate the prototype's interfaces using Smiley Meter Scale. Finally, the child is asked to have a quiz to measure whether the prototype is helpful in delivering new concepts.

Four survey techniques were used through the experiment as described previously. The Smiley Meter Scale is a reliable technique when it used with deaf children. Children rated different activities using the different emotional faces provided in the scale. Further, Best/Worst table and Again/Again table produced similar results. In most cases, if an activity is selected as the best activity among the explored ones, then it was also selected, by the same child, as the one to play again. However, Remembrance techniques did not have the ability to elicit information from deaf children. It was very difficult for the evaluators and the teachers to let the child understand that we want him/her to draw what they remember from the el-learning prototype. Children kept drawing sketches that were irrelevant to the program. Further, they had very poor drawing skills that most of their sketches were not understandable by both the evaluators and the teachers.

After the experiment, each child received a gift for participating in the experiment.

4.5 Observation

During the experiment, all the communications between the evaluators and the students were done through the teachers. However, students were trying to select the answers that they thought it would please their teacher. To overcome this problem, the teachers kept reminding the students that all the answers were correct and they need to choose the one that really represents their opinions.

Further, deaf children need different encouragements methods than other children. In order to encourage a deaf child, the evaluator has to pat on his/her head or shoulder, or by raising the thumb-up. This will keep the child's concentration and interest focused on the e-learning prototype.

In the Colors Definition activity, a color must be represented in different shapes. Fig. 2 shows the color blue represented in five different shapes. If the color is represented by only one shape, for example a star, then the child will be confused. He/she will wonder whether the new word represents the "Star" shape or the color "Blue".

Fig.2: An example of the Color Definition activity

Through the prototype, children received instant feedbacks after finishing each activity. These feedbacks are aimed to inform the children whether or not their answers were correct. However, one of the feedbacks provided in the prototype was not understandable by children. Fig. 3 shows the un-understood feedback. Deaf children prefer to have encouragements that are based on their sign language, checkmarks, and smiley faces. On the other hand, other encouragements used in the prototype were well understood by children (checkmarks and smiley faces).

Fig.3: The un-understood encouragement feedback

When an activity included a sign language video, children kept replaying the video until they learn the sign. Most children agreed that they need to replay the video at least three times in order to fully learn the new sign.

In order to make icons more understandable by deaf children, teachers indicated that it is better to use sign language symbols instead of the standard symbols used in software. For example, present the "Help" button by using sign language symbol instead of using a question mark.

Finally, deaf children with one or both of their parents are deaf were easier to communicate with. They had high signing skills and were able interact to with the evaluator without the need of the teacher as the communication link.

5. Guidelines

5.1 Text

Kuwaiti deaf students have poor reading skills compared to other children. It is recommended to use stories with one line content (at most four words per page) in order not to lose their interest in the story. Further, provide an image for each word used in the program. These images should appear only when the word is clicked.

5.2 Icon

Each icon used need to be presented with a label and a tooltip. The label need to be a text. This feature allows deaf children to know what they expect by clicking on that icon. The tooltip could be a video with sign language representation of the icon.

5.3 New Concept Representation

If teaching a new concept is the aim for the tutorial, use text, image, and sign language representation of the new concept all in one window. It is preferable to use more than one image to represent the color. For example, use different shapes (circle, rectangle, triangle, etc.) colored with blue to teach the child the color "Blue".

5.4 Help

Since most children have poor reading skills, it is recommended to use video-based help that show children how to interact with the interface. This type of help eliminate the possibility of not understanding of words used in the text-based help.

5.5 Show Site Map

If the program is large and includes multiple levels, then a map of the program should be shown. Design the structure of the map in a way that is simple and easy to understand. Further, use both of text and images to describe each section in the map.

5.6 Interface Design

Deaf children lose their interest toward educational programs very quickly. Design colorful interfaces for them in order to gain more interest.

5.7 Use Real Image Representations

It is easier for a deaf child to map a real image representation to real life than a cartoon representation.

5.8 Avoid Ambiguous Images

If the image yields to more than one meaning, then avoid using it. For example, if you want to represent the word "Boy" for children, do not use an image of a boy playing with a car. The child may guess that the new word is "Playing" instead of "Boy".

5.9 Provide Instance Feedbacks

Children must receive instant feedback after each activity or action. These feedbacks need to inform the child whether his/her actions were correct and motivate them to continue interacting with the interface in the same manner, or their actions were incorrect and explicitly direct them to the correct behavior. Further, use feedbacks that are understandable by deaf children, for example, feedbacks based on the sign language, checkmarks, and smiley faces

5.10 Use Sounds

Since some children have partial loss of their hearing, use sounds to enhance the interacting experience for them. The sounds need to be clear and the speaking speed needs to be suitable for those children.

5.11 Sign Language Actors

Use children actors for the videos of the sign language.

5.12 Video Screen

Use large video screens that contain the sign language. This provides clear vision on how the sign is performed.

5.13 Window Size

The window of the e-learning program need to accommodate the whole screen.

6. Conclusion

Building e-learning programs with interfaces that are user-friendly for deaf children is becoming more important since they interact differently than hearing children. Most guidelines that are built for designing interfaces for children can be applied for deaf children, however, extra caution need to be considered. The goal of this paper is to build a set of guidelines that complete and enhance the existing guidelines in order to be capable of handling deaf children's needs. To achieve this goal, an e-learning prototype is built and evaluated to gather the design requirements from deaf children and their teachers. Results showed that children aged from seven to nine years old suffer from low reading skills, thus, a maximum number of four words per page is considered to suitable for them. Further, all icons used through the interfaces need to be recognizable by the child.

7. Acknowledgments

We thank the management of the special education schools in Kuwait for their support.

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