Tom Dinning (Part 1)

"Meet Bradley, our very first DAISY expert. He had learnt how to use the DAISY player in about 10 minutes."

Tom Dinning is an education advisor working for the Northern Territory Education Resource Centre for the Vision Impaired in Darwin, Northern Territory (NT) Australia. This is his story...

Stage 1: January 2007

map outlining Australian territories, Darwin on northernmost central coastThe Northern Territory Education Resource Centre for the Vision Impaired in Darwin, Northern Territory (NT) Australia, is part of the NT Government Department of Education, Employment and Training (DEET). We are a small band of dedicated public servants who teach students who are blind or vision impaired throughout the Northern Territory. The number of students who receive assistance from us is about 100 and they range in age from birth to school-leaving age. That may seem a relatively small number of students to look after, but the area we cover is about one-fifth of the area of Australia and many of our students are in isolated and remote communities that can, at times, take days to get to, as long as the conditions are good.

In spite of our size we have always endeavoured to keep up with the latest information and technology so that our students can receive the service they deserve; equal to and in many instances, better than what is available in other, less remote places.

In late 2006 we were introduced to DAISY by Vision Australia. As a teacher I was quite excited by the potential for this powerful and versatile system of information access as a teaching tool as well as an access tool. Vision Australia was kind enough to provide one of our advisors (me) with training in the production of DAISY digital talking books (DTB) in addition to providing us with a Plextor player and Bookport.

We would like to produce our own DTB's in our resource centre. There are many instances where resource material can be produced in DAISY which is specific to the needs of the student and not generally available from existing sources such as Vision Australia Library Services. We also envisage taking production to the classroom. I see nothing inhibiting the students themselves, vision impaired or not, becoming involved in the production of DAISY for their own purposes. Not only would they be gaining useful skills but would take ownership of the product and pride in being involved in its production. Students are also great experimenters. I don't doubt that they would be able to contribute to the development of this tool as an educational resource.

(Editor's Note: In this initial contact with the DAISY Consortium, Tom explained that their funding was extremely limited, and asked for assistance in the way of information and advice. In return for any assistance provided, he explained: "We can only repay you for any assistance in being advocates for DAISY and allowing our students to show the rest of the world they too can be progressive, innovative, productive and capable members of their community.")

Stage 2: February 2007

I have obtained a copy of the software and will be completing the first of our production this weekend for a blind student in Tennant Creek (which is, if you are unfamiliar with the NT, a million miles from no-where). There has also been some interest from others at Student Services who think that DAISY might be of benefit to their students who have other disabilities.

I am also incorporating the use of DAISY as an educational tool into my post graduate studies.

Stage 3: December 2007

Ayer's RockSince the beginning of the year we have come quite a way with DAISY production. The first months involved a great deal of research into what would work for us. Operating on a small scale and wanting the kids in schools to access the DAISY production software narrowed the options a bit. Teachers are generally nervous around new technology so it needs to be simple. Kids less so but we don't need to get involved in the technical side of things if we don't want to. After all, its the literacy we are interested in; the technology is just a tool, not withstanding, a rather interesting one.

The final package for us is as follows:

  1. Plextalk PTR-2 recorder. Its dead simple to use but can do a heck of a lot if you let it. I like sitting in front of the tele at night with the ear plug in editing my latest recording. It's portability is great. I'm yet to test its robustness. When it goes into the outback to communities it will get a thorough testing. The Australian environment is brutal.
  2. Plextalk PRS recording software. Simple, like the recorder. For those of us who like to see what we are doing, it gives that sort of access.
  3. Dolphin Producer. Great for the instant production in synthetic voice. We are using this for texts and large documents. A good narrative needs the character of a good story teller. The kids are not keen on the synthetic voice either.
  4. Readers for the kids include Plextalk (kindly provided by Vision Australia Library Services), Victor Vibe, Dolphin Reader, and AMIS reader. We are producing some with audio only and others with audio and text. It depends on what the student needs. Bookport is made available for the older kids as well.
  5. The audio is also provided in WAV or MP3 format if the teacher requires it.

8 year old using DAISY playerCurrent projects include book production at the student, parent or teacher request, conversion of texts to audio/text DAISY and using all forms of audio to support the teaching and learning strategies. The best time for me is seeing how engrossed a student is when they 'read' their first DAISY book. Watching them use the player in the same way a sighted child reads is something else.

New projects for next year will be to use DAISY to support braille literacy and to record indigenous stories from the communities. The stories will be produced in DAISY, text and braille. They will be read by local indigenous volunteers or kids and made available to children in the communities to motivate them to attend school and keep their culture alive. It's a big ask but I'm getting some help from elders in the communities.

As always, there are obstacles. We don't have a sound studio here so I have the recording equipment set up in my spare room at home. Most of the recording takes place in my spare time. I am yet to train our resource producers in the production techniques. They have enough to do anyway. We don't have enough money or time and there is some resistance in the classroom from the teachers as they see it as something limited for use by students who are blind or have a visual handicap. For me it seems that DAISY has so much to offer that I wonder why we would do it any other way; visually impaired or not.

When an 8 year old student of mine was introduced to the DAISY reader for the first time he asked me what it was. I said it was like his mother who would read him stories at bed time except it wouldn't kiss him goodnight. But she didn't need the lights on to read to him either. His real mother says she can't get it away from him, he loves it so much.

Afterword: Bradley was the very first DAISY expert at the Northern Territory Education Resource Centre for the Vision Impaired. He had learnt how to use the DAISY player in about 10 minutes. He then proceeded to teach everyone else how to use it, including the Assistant Principal of the school.