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Exploring the challenges of developing digital literacy in the context of special educational needs communities

Author(s): Peter Williams

Journal: ITALICS
ISSN 1473-7507

Volume: 5;
Issue: 1;
Date: 2006;
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Keywords: learning disabilities | learning objects | special educational needs | digital and visual literacies | information literacy and empowerment | self-advocacy

This paper examines the impact of ‘digital literacy’ in the context of people with moderate to severe learning difficulties. The authors are part of a research consortium developing ‘Project @PPLe: Accessibility and Participation in the World Wide Web for People with Learning Disabilities’, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC). Project @PPLe aims to explore how people with learning disabilities can access and participate in, and be empowered by, the range of opportunities presented by the digital environment. To meet this aim a multimedia Learning Environment (LE), providing learning resources and tools for self-advocacy, is being developed and tested with young people with learning difficulties, teachers and support-staff. The LE aims to provide routes to learning materials and accessible content for learners matched to individual needs and preferences by a sophisticated content management system underpinned by a range of accessibility, cognitive and pedagogical taxonomies. Although carers, teachers and other supporters are often required to aid the learners in both their online and other tasks, the LE is being developed to facilitate independent use by even those with quite pronounced learning difficulties. In order to develop this system, a usability study was undertaken, partly to inform the software developers with regard to the interface and structure of the particular LE being created, partly to develop a taxonomy of user behaviour to inform this, and also partly to generalise from the findings to inform the wider aim of providing the authoritative guidelines for e-learning and information literacy in the context of special educational needs. This paper explores how a methodology for examining usability was developed, and in particular, the challenges raised by the provision of independent learning for young people with cognitive disabilities.
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