Enhanced m-learning assistive technology to support visually impaired learners in Tanzania the case of higher learning institution
The growing penetration of mobile and networked devices, for example, standard phones, smartphones and tablets have gradually transformed the mode of teaching and learning in Higher Learning Institutions (HLIs). The learning process is increasingly online, with students using electronic devices to access content and to self-learn at any time and from any place. This online ubiquitous learning is termed electronic-learning, or mobile learning (M-learning) when mobile devices are used. In Tanzania, 36% of people aged 24-29, which is the largest age group of students in HLIs, own a mobile device. As a result, m learning has been increasingly adopted by HLIs. However, little is known on the level of engagement in M- learning by visually impaired learners (VILs) in Tanzania; for instance, the tools they use and the challenges encountered when accessing learning contents. With an estimated 250 VILs in Tanzanian HLIs, it is essential to ensure that the ever-increasing reliance on electronic and mobile learning does not leave them with knowledge and skills gaps, as these could contribute to poor performance, dropping out and lower chances of employment after graduation. In this regard, assistive technology is needed in HLIs because as the world shifts from traditional classroom settings to online settings, VILs needs it in order to move with the pace and improve academic achievement. This study is intended to determine the usability of existing versatile assistive technologies among VILs in Tanzanian HLIs and the challenges that they face when accessing online learning platforms. User requirements for assistive features were gathered, and an assistive technology prototype was developed and validated. Data were collected via surveys and interviews involving 33 VILs in four HLIs. The study found that 67% of respondents did not know about mobile assistive technologies or integrated assistive technologies on online learning platforms. Also, 66% could not afford smartphones and were therefore unable to use assistive technologies. The prototype was developed for Android devices and consists of three parts: a user management component for user authentication; a learning resources component for a learning management system available in their HLIs; and a speech synthesizer. Whereby the platform can be able to synthesizer text and graphical contents into audio content, with the pitch analyzer. A usability test was conducted with 7 VILs using the System User Scale (SUS) questionnaire. The prototype achieved an average score of seventy-six-point eight percent (76.8%), which was higher than the 68% usability score given to existing Android accessibility tools. It is confirmed that accessibility, ii knowledge and skills are the principal concern with respect to the adoption and usage of learning technology for visually impaired learners.