[Computer Communications and Networks] Continued Rise of the Cloud || Cloud Computing Environment for e-Learning Services for Students with Disabilities

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  • Chapter 14Cloud Computing Environment for e-LearningServices for Students with Disabilities

    Aleksandar Milic, Konstantin Simic and Milo Milutinovic

    Abstract This chapter discusses design of cloud computing environments for e-learning services and applications for students with disabilities. The main idea isto expand the corpus of e-learning services adjusted for students with disabilities.The rationale is that e-educational systems are becoming more complex and educa-tional institutions need a new solution for deploying e-learning services. The cloudcomputing environment gives a new perspective to educational process in terms ofusage of educational applications, software, and system for e-education. Regardlessof the rapid development of information and communication technologies, there is alow level of inclusion of students with disabilities into the education process. There-fore, in this chapter the authors present a model of cloud computing environment forproviding e-learning services developed with respect to the needs of students withdisabilities. The model includes a variety of services, applications and componentsintegrated into the e-learning Web portal. These services provide numerous features:a choice of different types of teaching materials, an integration of interactive voiceresponse system within the learning management system, a mobile messaging ser-vice, etc. As a proof of the concept, a number of components of the model wereimplemented for students with disabilities within the Laboratory for e-business, Fac-ulty of Organizational Sciences, University of Belgrade. Results and our impressionsare presented.

    Keywords Cloud computing E-learning services E-learning Students withdisabilities E-education Disability

    A. Milic () K. Simic M. MilutinovicFaculty of Organizational Sciences, University of Belgrade,Jove Ilica 154, Belgrade, Serbiae-mail: milic@elab.rs

    K. Simice-mail: kosta@elab.rs

    M. Milutinovice-mail: milosm@elab.rs

    363Z. Mahmood (ed.), Continued Rise of the Cloud, Computer Communicationsand Networks, DOI 10.1007/978-1-4471-6452-4_14, Springer-Verlag London 2014

  • 364 A. Milic et al.

    14.1 Introduction

    The ability to provide access to services and information 24 h a day, seven daysa week, is an emerging force today. Nowadays, higher education institutions areturning attention and resources to provide information and services on-line, andto use technology for improvement of the educational process. As a result, the e-educational system is revolutionized. In this new age, a good e-educational systemis an accessible e-educational system. A good e-educational system needs to have animmediate access to pertinent information.

    Further, information and communication technology (ICT) changes the educa-tional systems and their possibilities, thereby enabling an educational process to beoffered in way that responds to students needs and demands. The ICT is a tremen-dously valuable tool for encouraging the development, inclusion, and participationof collectives traditionally excluded from several areas of social and cultural life.This feature has enabled higher education institutions to include groups of studentswith disability to participate in the general curriculum and to successfully achieveacademic success. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a disabilityis any restriction or lack (resulting from any impairment) of ability to perform anactivity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being.

    A very important topic nowadays is the issue of designing new educational ser-vices and adjusting current educational services to suit the needs of a disabled student.While the amount and type of accessible information increases, learning environ-ments, which offer the same content to all participants, and the same navigationaloptions, cannot satisfy the demands [1]. The problem is that the learning materialdoes not take into consideration the studentspersonal learning needs [2, 3]. Becauseof the learning environments limitations, there is a need for a transition from Web-based learning environments, which are developed with a motto, such as One sizefits all, to an adaptive Web-based learning [1, 4, 5].

    With a huge growth in the number of users, services, education contents, andresources, e-learning systems become more and more large-scale. One of the basicproblems in developing the environment for an e-education system is how to providescalability and reliability of educational applications and services. One of the possiblesolutions is infrastructure based on the cloud computing concept.

    This chapter discusses one possible approach to providing e-education servicesfor a student with disabilities. The developed model is based on the cloud computinginfrastructure. The model includes all services necessary for the inclusion of stu-dents with disabilities. The rest of the chapter is organized as follows: in the secondsection, a theoretical background of cloud computing and implemented e-educationservices for people with disabilities is given; the third section describes the differentapproaches for delivering e-learning services through cloud computing; in Sect. 14.4a model for the usage of e-learning services for students with disabilities throughcloud computing is proposed. Section 14.5 gives details on the realization of theproposed model within the e-learning system of the Laboratory for e-business atthe University of Belgrade. The next Sect. 14.6 discusses benefits from the devel-oped cloud computing services that students with disabilities can achieve. Finally,concluding remarks are given.

  • 14 Cloud Computing Environment for e-Learning Services . . . 365

    14.2 Theoretical Background

    14.2.1 E-Learning and Cloud Computing

    The majority of educational institutions own a computer centre which is designed andbuilt specifically for their own use. The efficiency of the existing resources representsa problem. The capacity of computer centre gradually becomes inadequate to meetthe demands of scientific research and educational activities, while at the same timeit becomes expensive to maintain. In each semester students mostly require the mostmodern hardware with specific software requirements for their laboratory exercisesand practical projects. Therefore, a low utilization of available resources requires adifferent approach to the implementation of infrastructure systems for e-learning.

    The best solution that information technologies could provide to users at highereducation institutions and to their computer centers is the development of an infor-mation technology (IT) infrastructure model based on the cloud computing concept.The concept of cloud computing is a business model and technology platform, whichis the result of evolution and convergence of many seemingly independent computingtrends. The cloud computing infrastructure for educational institutions allows for anefficient usage of the existing resources and gives a new perspective to scalability andreliability of educational applications, software, and a system for e-education. Thecloud computing concept and its characteristics can help higher education institu-tions improve productivity and enhance hardware and software resource managementwhich are necessary to provide e-education features, scientific and research activities,and student projects [6].

    The IT infrastructure of a higher education institution is a set of hardware, soft-ware, computer network, associated facilities meant to provide modern services andnetwork resources, the Internet connection and communication with other scientificresearch and higher education institutions, to promote scientific research and edu-cational processes. A majority of resources in the e-learning system are deployedand assigned for some specific tasks or services, and physical machines are usuallystacked simply and exclusively. With the growth of resources, the utilization of theseresources becomes another problem. During the education process a large amount ofteaching material is generated, which further aggravates the available resources. Oneof the biggest problems in the implementation of IT infrastructure is a competitiveaccess to shared resources in the higher education institution.

    14.2.2 People with Disabilities

    Developing learning environments and systems which provide education while sat-isfying the individual differences, such as learning styles, learning preferences,interests, etc. can be very beneficial. These environments/systems utilize differentsolutions, such as various teaching strategies to lessen the specific learning disability

  • 366 A. Milic et al.

    [7]. People with disabilities face many difficulties in their everyday lives, dependingon the type of their disability. They are frequently the subjects of discrimination.Students with disabilities often have problems related to accessibility of teachingmaterials. Adequate categorization of people with disabilities can be used to preventthis discrimination of people with disabilities.

    When the literature is reviewed, it can be seen that classifications of specificlearning disabilities are expressed differently by different researchers. The mostfrequently used classifications of computer learning disability include visual im-pairments, hearing impairments, motor impairments, and cognitive impairments.Opposing these classifications, some specialists [8, 9] claim that specific learningdisabilities can vary from one child affected to another, and such disability can beobserved in a couple of areas and in some children, which cannot be classified. Thesedisabilities are briefly introduced in the following:

    Visual Impairments The visual impairments include:

    Total blindness: People who are totally blind cannot see at all; therefore, when ac-cessing the Internet or using computerized equipment, these individuals typicallyrely on screen reader devices.

    Low vision: People with low vision can see images; however, they cannot seemost images clearly.

    Color blindness: People with color blindness have difficulty in perceiving certaincolors and/or combinations of colors. These individuals may, however, have nodifficulty seeing black and white images or varying shades of grey [10].

    Hearing Impairments Hearing impairment disabilities vary in type and severity.People who have a hearing impairment may have a diminished ability to hear certainfrequencies (pitches), or they may have difficulty hearing at all frequency levels.

    Motor Impairments Some learners with motor impairment disabilities may havelimited use of their hands; others may not be able to use their hands at all. Condi-tions that may lead to a motor impairment disability include arthritis, amputation,birth defects, cerebral palsy, essential tremor, loss or damage of limbs, muscular dys-trophy, multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, spinal cord injury, neurological conditions,paralysis, and Parkinsons disease. Hudson [11] maintains that individuals who havemotor impairment disabilities commonly experience difficulties accessing computerkeyboards and mice; therefore, they often rely on special assistive technologies inorder to interact with a computer.

    Cognitive Impairments Cognitive impairments involve a wide variation of memory,perception, problem-solving, and conceptualizing challenges. Cognitive impair-ments are often attributed to conditions, such as autism, brain injury, cerebralpalsy, epilepsy, mental retardation, or neurological impairment [12]. Cognitiveimpairments can also include developmental disabilities, pervasive developmentaldisorders, Rett syndrome, and Williams syndrome [13].

  • 14 Cloud Computing Environment for e-Learning Services . . . 367

    Students with learning disabilities constitute the largest group of students withdisabilities at the college level. Some authors [14] suggested the need for new ed-ucational materials to develop students thinking ability, increase their motivation,and assess their learning. Carnine [15] and Ellis [16] advocate focusing teachingstrategies and instructional materials for all students on developing higher orderthinking processes. Rieth and Polsgrove [17] discuss three models for creating acurriculum for students with learning disabilities. Their goals include enabling stu-dents to better process information, improving their coping and problem-solvingskills, developing their interpersonal skills, and enabling them to establish socialsupport networks. Classroom simulations promote all four of these goals and couldbe effectively utilized in any of the three models discussed [18].

    14.3 Approaches to Delivering e-Learning Services to Studentswith Disabilities

    To bring services to people with disabilities, there are two commonly utilized ap-proaches. The first approach involves the utilization of an assistive technology. Thesecond approach involves the utilization of a design principle referred to as theuniversal design.

    14.3.1 Universal Design

    The term universal design was coined in the 1970s as an architectural concept formaking facilities accessible to all persons without the help of special assistance ordevices. Since that time the universal design concept has been adopted by many addi-tional fields including the computer industry, telecommunications, and informationsystems [19]. Universal design can be defined as the theory and practice pertainingto design, development, and implementation of communication, information, andtechnology products and services that are equally accessible to individuals who aredisabled.

    The Universal design for learning (UDL) is a research-based model for curriculardesign. The model ensures participation in the higher education institution programfor all students, including those with disabilities. The UDL offers options for howeducational resource is presented, how students respond or demonstrate their knowl-edge and skills, and how students are engaged in learning. The UDL implementationprovides the opportunity for all students to access, participate in, and progress in thehigher education institution curriculum by reducing barriers to instruction.

    The UDL addresses three learning networks within a broadly defined concept ofcurriculum that includes goals, materials, methods, and assessment [20]. Accordingto the following three UDL principles, each area of the curriculum should providemultiple, varied, and flexible options for representation, expression, and engagement:

  • 368 A. Milic et al.

    Principle 1: It provides multiple means of representation (recognition network).Present information and content in different ways.

    Principle 2: It provides multiple means of action and expression (strategic net-work) and differentiates the ways in which students can express what theyknow.

    Principle 3: It provides multiple means of engagement (affective network) andstimulates interest and motivation for learning.

    Section 508 Standards [21] defines assistive technologies as any item, piece ofequipment, or system, whether ac...

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