January 2001 Issue  Volume 2  Number 1

Product Evaluation

The Sound, Sight, and Feel of Learning: An Interactive Tutorial from TECSO

"Listening to the Internet" is one of a growing family of interactive tutorials developed specifically with blind and visually impaired users in mind by the Montreal-based TECSO. The power of packaging was not lost on this company, and the result is an attractively packaged interactive tutorial that covers all topics and learning styles.

The basic product is an interactive tutorial, consisting of digitally recorded voices on a CD-ROM that takes you through six areas of study: the Internet, Web Basics, Surfing the Web, Internet Tools, E-mail Basics, and Advanced E-mail. The sound quality is crystal clear, and the use of seasoned Talking Book narrators contributes to the audio appeal of the lessons. The entire "Listening to the Internet" package is housed in a sturdy three-ring binder and consists of the CD itself and audiocassette manual (inside the front cover) and three-hole-punched print and braille instructions. The binder also includes a tactile guide (in landscape mode, turned sideways), providing excellent raised-line depictions of the screens that are covered throughout the product's lessons.

Quick Start instructions for installation are included in all three formats, so that you are quickly up and running with lesson one. The tutorial is configured to work with either JAWS for Windows or Window-Eyes screen readers. In either case, context-sensitive tips are available throughout the exercises.

How Does It Work?

The tutorial is divided into six units, each containing explanations, practice exercises, and questions for review. The idea is to listen to each lesson with Internet Explorer launched and experience each step of instruction as it is presented. The tutorial will familiarize you with Internet basics—including web surfing, utilizing search engines, and all aspects of e-mail. Standard Windows commands are used, but the tutorial frequently reminds you specifically how to proceed. For example, once inside the "About This Tutorial" section (containing copyright and credit information) you are reminded to "Use Tab to select an option and then press Enter." Similarly, the narrator frequently reminds you to "use Up and Down arrows" through a set of choices, or to "press Alt-Tab" to return to Internet Explorer.

To launch the tutorial, you are asked to type your last name. From the main menu, you either select one of the six units or "last activity," a convenient feature of the product, bookmarking the lesson you most recently completed.

The interactive nature of this tutorial is particularly engaging. The narrators remind you to launch Internet Explorer at a lesson's outset and to close it if exiting. After each segment of new information, the tutorial pauses, allowing you to return to Internet Explorer and execute the step. When you are ready to continue, the tutorial is easily resumed by pressing F12.

When you exit the tutorial, you are asked, "Are you sure you want to exit the tutorial? Use Tab to select Exit or Cancel. Then press "Enter."

Playback controls, similar to a tape recorder, facilitate moving around within the product's six basic units or within a single unit's individual lessons. Jumping forward or back by small or large segments, speeding up or slowing down the voice, or getting a quick review of controls are all easily accomplished. The two narrators, one male and one female, alternate comfortably to keep attention and interest high. "How-to" information is repeatedly provided. For example, you are instructed to return to Internet Explorer to execute a given step, and then reminded to "Press Alt-Tab" to get there. Relevant JAWS or Window-Eyes commands have been included as a readily available Help screen, and periodic reminders alert you that these commands are available with just a keystroke.

The tactile guides are excellent and are incorporated directly into the tutorial's lessons. In a lesson on learning to use the AltaVista search engine, for example, you are directed to the site and reminded of basic JAWS commands for navigating it. Next, exercises guide you through the process of conducting a basic search. Meanwhile, you are referred to the tactile representation contained in the binder and quickly located by number, which illustrates the layout of the AltaVista screen.

For the kinesthetic learner, TECSO has produced a product in which instructions are spoken clearly, hands-on exercise is required, and explanation is provided in print, braille, audio, and tactile drawing formats. The new user is reminded of the small details that could easily be oversights—such as launching Internet Explorer to begin and closing it when finished. Although the entire tutorial includes about four hours of listening, the program remembers the "last activity," making it easy for you to pick up at any time to continue working consecutively through the lessons. Of course, if only one topic—such as surfing the web or compiling an address book—is of interest, any unit can be easily selected or jumped to at any time.

Minor Drawbacks

Although the playback controls are convenient and certainly familiar to Talking Book users, the pitch of the voice is altered significantly. Pressing F12 to resume the tutorial is generally effective from anywhere, although at times returning specifically to the tutorial with Alt-Tab was necessary. Finally, a more frequent reminder to press Ctrl-F12 to prevent command conflicts between screen reader and tutorial would be useful.

Those minor caveats being mentioned, however, "Listening to the Internet" is an excellent product that seems to have covered all topics in a rapidly changing market. For the self-taught computer user or as one of many tools in a training lab, this is a tutorial worth its price.

Product Information

Listening to the Internet (available in English, French, Italian, and Spanish).

Manufacturer: TECSO, Inc.; 1717 Rene-Levesque Blvd., East, Second Floor; Montreal, Quebec, Canada H2L 4T3; phone: 514-590-4218; fax: 514-590-4228; Web site: www.tecso.com. Price: $198.

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