An application helps the integration in the class of students with auditory problems
José Pichel Andrés/DICYT The Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca (UPSA) has developed an application for mobile devices that aims to help students with auditory difficulties in the classroom. By means of this application known as Integrad@s the teacher can communicate with the student by means of a digital tablet or a mobile phone. When teaching he/she uses a microphone that transmits his/her words and the app transcribes them in real time. This makes it easier for the students to follow the explanations as they visualise in written form the oral expression of the teacher. A group of teachers is currently assessing its operation.
The application has been adapted to the educational environment and is designed for children and young people with a light or moderate hearing loss, which is known as hypoacusia. “These students tend to suffer from attention fatigue as they have to make a great effort to understand what the teacher is saying. It is hence easy for them to stop paying attention and lose interest, missing the opportunity to acquire a satisfactory amount of knowledge”, DiCYT was told by Luz María Fernández and María Paz de Blas, the researchers of the Faculty of Education of the UPSA in charge of the project.
Throughout the last academic year and with the support of the lecturer and researcher of the Faculty of Computing of the UPSA José Antonio de la Varga, an application was designed for devices with an Android operating system that allows interaction using Bluetooth. The project was developed by the University Innovation Club of this academic institution and the students Mariano García, Carlota Estefanía Martín, and María Martín also took part.
The app that they designed has two interfaces, one for the pupil and one for the teacher, and is configured with two alert systems, an emotional one and a cognitive one. The emotional alerts allow the interaction between teacher and student with the aim of facilitating backup for tasks suitably completed or the acquiring of concepts correctly internalised and also the making of any appropriate corrections. The cognitive alerts are designed to transmit theoretical information and to organise practical exercises to consolidate the knowledge acquired. The teacher and the student have the opportunity to access the specific contents of each theme by means of differentiated icons for each of the subjects.
In any case the most useful aspect is the transcription of the teacher's oral delivery that is carried out automatically in real time. The teacher's words are captured by a microphone and appear transcribed in a text on the screen of the mobile phone or the tablet of the child with auditory difficulties, which is a great help as it enables the capturing of as much information as possible and avoids attention fatigue.
“We know that these children show a deficit in reading comprehension, have semantic and syntactic difficulties, and also difficulties in phonological auditory discrimination deriving from their hearing loss or hearing problems“, points out Luz María Fernández. “This has a negative effect on all subjects, especially those with a high content of oral and written language, but as the text is transcribed on the application the student can associate the sounds he/she captures with their written representation”. In this way Integrad@s would be helping to solve an important problem. After all, written language transforms sounds into letters (writing) and letters into sounds (oral language).
Although it has been specifically designed for this type of students, the application can also be used by the whole class. “The operation of the application in itself should be thought of as just another element in the classroom of an integrating and inclusive nature. In this case we could have the application available to all students but it would only be used by those who need it owing to difficulties or disabilities. It's like the subtitles on the television; they are available to everyone but only some people use them”, points out María Paz de Blas, who has joined the project this academic year.
Likewise the researchers believe that the app could be suitable for students with problems other than auditory difficulties, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
It should also be taken into account that many cases of hypoacusia go undetected. Moreover, this system is not suitable for children suffering from total deafness, as they already use sign language and cannot pay attention to two systems at the same time.
Tested in Puerto Rico
The first actual tests were carried out in Puerto Rico at the Colegio San Gabriel, a special school for students with hearing disabilities. The members of its psycho-pedagogical team are very experienced and after testing Integrad@s considered that the application was very useful. They did however suggest a specific improvement: the text transcribed in real time should be stored so that pupils can look back and revise the class content.
In addition to including this kind of technological improvements, the essential objective of the current stage of the project is to continue to assess the system in a physical environment, to be precise in a Salamanca school with pupils aged from 10 to 18. “We want to see if the child acquires all the information transmitted by the teacher and at the same time improves his/her attention and reading comprehension by visual access to the lexicon”, Luz María Fernández points out.
The follow-up is continuous and the teachers taking part in the project keep a record of each session. All this will provide a lot of information on the effectiveness of this method, which aims to reinforce inclusive education, an educational model that includes among its principles "the medium must adapt to the student and not the other way around”.
If the results are positive, the implementation of the application in other contexts and with other groups can be considered so as to encourage academic achievement and therefore social inclusion.