Monday, September 24, 2007
Unintentional Art Installation
Guess we overloaded the sheet-fed scanner.
You see, students with visual impairments are entitled to an "accessible PDF" of their textbooks. This allows those with some vision to blow them up huge on a computer screen, as well as to have the computer read it to them out loud. This is actually one of the few legal uses of reformatting of in-copyright works that we are allowed under Canadian law. The problem is, with technical or scientific textbooks, such as this precalculus tome, which has a lot of symbols and formulae, the OCR software doesn't know how to interpret them. Adding to the problem is the use of coloured ink to separate parts of the equation from others. This is probably a great teaching strategy for fully-sighted students, but really bites when you've got a visually impaired student struggling to read the symbols in the first place. Textbook publishers: could you put a sock in the coloured ink thing?
Anyway, we were trying today to figure out some alternative scanning practices that might make the formulae machine-readable. The textbook had already been sliced to allow us to sheet-feed it through the scanner; later it gets rebound in spiral for the student as a back-up to the electronic version. But the student's got a test in a few weeks so we really had to get this to her soon. We stuck the whole thing in the sheet feeder and set it up to capture high-res, high-contrast colour scans. An hour later when I emerged from my office, I saw what you're seeing above in the scanner's out-tray. I guess when the tray gets full the rest of the sheets bump into each other, creating the cornucopia effect. It was so beautiful I left it there to enjoy. Tomorrow some poor student employee is going to get stuck re-ordering those pages.