Accessibility in academia is often talked about but hardly implemented well. To make academia accessible and available to all, it is important to cultivate a culture of equity where all students, from the least privileged and most in-need, have access to learning materials through multiple modes of engagement. During this past year, students have been the most reliant on the internet than ever before due to remote learning. However, those with reading disabilities and visual impairments in higher education were left behind when typical accessibility features, such as text-to-voice, struggled with the format of academic literature. Research suggests low quality text-to-speech may be related to poorer student comprehension. Additionally, academic audio recordings can be a useful, and currently unavailable, resource for any student burdened with lots of reading assignments. As a team of graduate students who strive to implement inclusive pedagogy and universal design in our own classrooms, we feel Academ-eReader is a necessary step towards equitable education.
What it does
Academ-eReader is a re-interpretation of Audible that's specialized for and unique to academic readings. Although typical text-to-speech features can read documents with ease, they struggle with the varied formats of scientific papers. Common errors include reading paragraphs in the incorrect order, adding figure captions in the middle of a sentence, making a mess of math equations, or reading at an uncomfortable speed. With Academ-eReader, users have access to a catalog of scientific papers from open-access journals with live recordings to address common text-to-speech problems. Individuals can navigate between paragraphs and section headers with ease. Readers can also listen to just abstracts as they search for the paper right for their needs. Additionally, readers don’t need to be confused by meaningless numbers and symbols being individually pronounced in the method and results section. Citations are also not read aloud to increase the flow of the article.
How we built it
For the recordings, specialized researchers identified and recorded articles within our fields of expertise using Audacity audio processing software. We also used ELAN transcription software and annotated the audio files constructed. We then took the articles and audio files and integrated them into our online webpage, Academ-eReader.
The recordings, research articles, associated metadata, and all other web app content were hosted on and served by an ExpressJS application written in TypeScript. No database was used for the initial prototype, but MongoDB can be easily adopted. This then serves up a VueJS frontend application also written in TypeScript and styled with MaterializeCSS (a material design framework). The app utilizes data streaming and partial request handling to deliver a seamless random-access audio experience. A RESTful API provides a variety of endpoints to get all data from the server.
Challenges we ran into
The challenges we ran into were the time constraints and the amount of foresight needed for recording in order to have all the features we wanted. For the majority of our team, MakeUC 2021 is our first hackathon and only one of our members has extensive programming experience. We also developed a workflow over the 24 hours that allowed us to work best as a team given certain technological and knowledge constraints.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
Besides the friends we made along the way, we’re proud of recording three research articles, annotating the recordings for navigating the webpage, and learning how to organize a project in git. As a collective team, we are proud of bringing our idea to life and creating this project within 24 hours. For some of us, we are beginner programmers and are proud of taking the opportunity to take part of a hackathon.
What we learned
We learned how to collaborate transdisciplinary fields (experimental psychology, electrical engineering & computer science) and learned effective product management for set tasks in a very short time constraint. Teammates learned git, audio processing software, audio transcription software, audio streaming, and pdf rendering (to name a few).
What's next for Academ-eReader
We want to add more academic papers, a sentence highlighting option as your read, more voice options, a search-by-keyword option, utilizing figure pop-ups while reading, a share and review system, and implementing user accounts.