ATL Tools Section

Name of the ATL resource 1

ClaroRead

How others can access the resource

ClaroRead can be accessed by downloading and installing it on a computer from the following URL by clicking on the “Download Now” button: http://www.clarosoftware.com/claroread. This procedure will install the trial version of ClaroRead and the software can finally be bought after the trial period. ClaroRead’s website also contains software installation guide and a guide on how to use the tool.

ClaroRead software is also available on the cloud. It provides users with TTS tool, OCR capabilities, and other tools via any device (phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop computers) without installing any files. Users can access ClaroRead on the cloud via an internet connection and users will need to subscribe to this service.

A summary of ClaroRead

ClaroRead is a software that supports reading and writing. In order to support reading tasks, ClaroRead contains text-to-speech (TTS) compensatory support tool that helps students to read any on-screen text aloud by high quality human voice. It also reads text in emails, webpages (Internet Explorer, Safari, Chrome), and any other program by selecting the text with the mouse or pointing the text with the mouse. As it reads out the text, it also highlights each word or sentence in any color so that the user can follow what is being read out. The user can also alter the reading speed and pause between words. The software also allows the user to read the text into an audio or video file in order to listen to the files at a later time (Claro Software Ltd., 2015).

ClaroRead is available in four different versions: SE, Standard, Plus, and Pro. The Plus and Pro versions have OCR capabilities; hence, these versions of the software can read aloud scanned paper books and documents. However, only Plus version of the software can support OCR capabilities for computers with Mac operating system (Claro Software Ltd., 2015). Moreover, the cloud version of the software also supports OCR capabilities and stores the scanned documents online via cloud storage like Evernote, Dropbox and Google Docs. ClaroRead SE and Standard versions are the USB memory stick versions. These versions run directly from a memory stick on any computer; hence, file installation is not required for these versions (Claro Software Ltd., 2015).

ClaroRead also provides access to other compensatory tools like word prediction, spellcheck, dictionary, mind map and idea capturing tool, and reading out aloud any written material during editing or revising process.

Here’s the link to the YouTube video showing how ClaroRead works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7gFy7o9vqMM&t=15

My reasons for selecting ClaroRead

Every year, I come across few students who struggle with reading tasks; hence, they quickly lose interest to participate in any in-class activities. Some of these students also face difficulties while writing their ideas on paper. I feel that these students can benefit in many ways by using ClaroRead because this software not only provides a TTS support but also provides support to students in their writing tasks. ClaroRead will also enable these students to read their reading materials independently after installing this software on their computers. Since students in my classroom spend most of their time reading and analyzing topics from reading materials, ClaroRead can be a great resource for students with reading difficulties in order to enhance their participation in the learning process.

Critique of the ClaroRead including its affordances and constraints

ClaroRead provides a great TTS tool for students with reading difficulties and it also provides various other tools for reading and writing support. It supports eighty different speech synthesized voices and reads in English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, and twenty-four other languages; hence, the user gets to select any language or voice from a variety of different languages and voices/accents (Claro Software Ltd., 2015). However, some of the voices are not supported on mac computers and computers with Windows XP version. ClaroRead also works on Windows PC and Mac computers and it works with numerous other applications; so it supports various users.

ClaroRead is not a free software and it can get costly depending on the version of the software. The SE version is the cheapest version while Pro is the most expensive version. Only Plus and Pro versions have OCR capabilities but only Pro version contains some of the advanced functionalities of OCR capabilities. Also, ClaroRead provides a trial period of fifteen days only, which I don’t think is enough time to assess students’ performance in using TTS software.

Based on ClaroRead’s affordances and constraints, its benefits outweigh its drawbacks. Thus, I would recommend this TTS software for students who are able to buy this software since its TTS tool supports various file formats and it can also read text on emails and web browsers. Pro and Plus versions are recommended for students who also need access to other tools like OCR capabilities.

Decision and support needed to use ClaroRead in Education

In order to use ClaroRead for students with reading difficulties, computers or laptops will be needed with any of these operating systems: Windows 8.1, 7, XP, or Vista SP2 (Mac OSX 10.7 and above for Mac computers). Moreover, 1 GB of RAM and 1.25 GB of hard disk space will be required (2 GB of RAM and 470 MB of hard disk space for Mac computers). ClaroRead also supports Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, and 2013 (Claro Software Ltd., 2015). In order to hear the voice, sound card will also be required. Students may also need headphones if they are using the software in a quiet environment or environment where there is enough noise to distract the students. For Plus and Pro versions, scanner supporting TWAIN or WIA will be required if OCR capabilities will be used (Claro Software Ltd., 2015). If Standard and SE versions are used via USB, USB flash drives should be available for students.

After meeting these requirements, IT department at any educational organization will need an approval to install this software on any school computer. Training on how to use the software should also be arranged for all users and most of the training guides and documentation are posted on ClaroRead’s website. IT department will also be required to provide technical support related to the installation of this software. Software technical issues can also be addressed with Claro Software Ltd.

Finally, if ClaroRead cloud solution is used in the school, then users should be provided with access to internet connection and the school’s firewall should be modified to allow access to cloud version of ClaroRead.

Name of the ATL resource 2

Read&Write

How others can access Read&Write

Read&Write can be accessed by downloading and installing it on a computer from the following URL by clicking on the “Download Free Trial” button: http://www.texthelp.com/UK/Our-products/Readwrite/Downloads. This will install the trial version of Read&Write and the software can finally be bought after the trial period. Read&Write also provides contact information for technical support on their website for users having difficulties with installing the software on their computers.

Read&Write is also available on the cloud. It allows users to access this software instantly using any mobile device connected to internet.

A summary of Read&Write

Read&Write is another software that supports reading and writing. It provides TTS compensatory tool for Windows and Mac computer users. Read&Write is also available on the cloud for users who need to access this software without installing any files on their computers. Read&Write reads text aloud from any file with dual color highlighting – words are highlighted in one color as they are read aloud while the sentence is highlighted in different color. Hence, dual color highlighting helps users to comprehend the text and recognize the words easily on the screen (Texthelp Ltd., 2015). It supports various formats of text: Microsoft Word, Google Docs, .txt files, web pages, pdf files, graphic files with text, instant messages, emails, daisy books, dragon recognized text, and all content on the screen including file names and tool tips. Read&Write also supports scanning of printed materials into digital files that can be read aloud by the software.

Additionally, users can select any preferred reading voice and they can also control the pitch, speed, and volume of the voice. Read&Write can also convert any text into an audio file such as MP3, M4A, and AIFF using high quality voices. Apart from providing TTS compensatory tool, this software also provides other tools that are helpful for students with reading and writing difficulties. These tools are text and picture dictionary, spell checker, verb checker, word prediction tool, vocabulary tool, calculator, translator, and other tools supporting study skills and research (Texthelp Ltd., 2015).

Here’s the link to the YouTube video showing how the Read&Write works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RypAr9YhcDo&feature=youtu.be

My reasons for selecting Read&Write

Last year, when I was looking for a TTS tool for my students, I came across Read&Write. Similar to ClaroRead, Read&Write would be very helpful for my students struggling with reading in and outside the classroom. I also have few students in my classroom who have difficulties in both reading and writing; so, this software would be a great compensatory tool for these students since it will provide supports to students in both areas.

Read&Write is also a cost-effective solution because it provides both supports in a single software than having two different software. Moreover, a software providing both supports will simplify students’ tasks by not having to learn two software at the same time.

Critique of the Read&Write including its affordances and constraints

Read&Write provides various other tools that support both writing and reading; hence, that can potentially enhance students’ academic skills in other areas too. For instance, ESL students can translate words from their reading assignment into another language; hence, this can enhance their reading comprehension skills.

Read&Write also provides ample videos and instructional guides showing usage of TTS tool for reading and other tools for writing supports. Although, the software is produced in UK, it is sold internationally and technical support is available to all customers world-wide.

However, this software is not available for free. Read&Write is less expensive than ClaroRead and it has a longer trial period than ClaroRead. Similar to ClaroRead, Read&Write offers variety of other tools that may not be useful for students needing a TTS compensatory tool only.

I would recommend this software to students and educators willing to purchase compensatory tools for students with reading and writing difficulties. Read&Write can be a helpful software for students with reading difficulties only but I would still recommend looking at other software that will only provide TTS support because that may turn out to be more cost-effective solution.

Decision and support needed to use Read&Write in Education

Schools implementing Read&Write will need windows XP SP3 or above or Mac OS 10.7 or above versions on their computers. The computers will also need 4 GB of RAM and 4GB of free disk space on any computers with Mac operating system. However, computers using windows operating system will need 512 MB of RAM and 2 GB of free disk space (Texthelp Ltd., 2015). Sound card for audio output and internet connection for downloading the software and for activating certain features will also be required. Depending on the needs of students and the environment where the student would be using the software, speakers or head phones may be required to access the TTS tool in Read&Write.

When Read&Write is approved to be used on school’s computers, IT department will need to install this software on all computers. IT department may need to modify the firewall in order to not block the students from using this software when internet connection is required or when accessing the cloud version of this software. Although most training videos and guides are provided on the website, training should be provided to students who cannot learn independently by reading guides or watching online videos. Students may also require technical support from IT department; however, this can also be arranged through Texthelp Ltd.

Name of the ATL resource 3

WordTalk

How others can access WordTalk

WordTalk can be downloaded and installed on a computer from the following URL: http://www.wordtalk.org.uk/Home/ by clicking on the “Download now” link. Alternatively, WordTalk can be downloaded and installed from the “Download” tab of the URL. Installation guides for installing WordTalk for all versions of Microsoft Word can be found in the “Installation Guide” tab of the URL (CALL Scotland, 2014).

Summary of the WordTalk

WordTalk is a free text-to-speech plugin for Microsoft Word application. More information about WordTalk can be accessed from its website. WordTalk speaks the text in the word document from the point where the cursor is placed and it will highlight the text as it keeps on reading (CALL Scotland, 2014). Moreover, the user can select WordTalk to speak the entire document, paragraph, sentence, or a single word. The user can also adjust the colors of the highlighted text and can change the voice and the speed of the speech. WordTalk also has a talking spell checker that will help the users to select the most appropriate spelling of the word. The user can also convert all the text in the word document into speech and save that as a .wav or.mp3 file. All these functionalities are done via simply using the WordTalk toolbar which appears in the “Add-Ins” tab of the Microsoft Word application (CALL Scotland, 2014).

My reasons for selecting WordTalk

Through my teaching experience as an instructor for Islamic history and civilization for students in grades 5 and 6, I do a lot of in-class readings with my students where I read aloud paragraph by paragraph and involve students through group discussions and activities. Every year, I come across students who are reading below their grade level. These students struggle with reading assignments that need to be completed outside classroom; hence, they eventually lose interest in completing their assignment. Thus, I decided to try WordTalk for my students in September of 2014 after getting an approval from the leadership team. WordTalk worked very well in providing reading support to my students outside classroom and most students were able to complete their reading assignments successfully. WordTalk was officially implemented in January of 2015. Moreover, WordTalk was selected for Islamic studies program because it is available for free and all of the reading materials for this program are available in Microsoft word format.

Critique of the WordTalk including its affordances and constraints

WordTalk is a free plugin for any version of Microsoft Word application and its website contains easy installation instructions for different versions of Microsoft word. When it is installed on a computer, it occupies minimal amount of memory. Its website also provides excellent support and troubleshooting tips in the form of FAQs. Moreover, second line of support is also provided where the user can contact WordTalk developers by filling out a web form on their website.

Since WordTalk only works with Microsoft Word, I wish it worked with other similar word processors like OpenOffice.org, Google Docs, and Zoho Writer. WordTalk is also limited to Windows operating system; hence, it does not work on other operating systems like Mac operating system and Linux.

Therefore, based on the strengths and weaknesses of WordTalk, I would recommend this plugin to users who need free TTS tool and users who have Microsoft Word installed on their computers. However, web pages, emails, pdf files, and other text files cannot be read using WordTalk unless they are converted into word documents.

Decision and support needed to use WordTalk in Education

Most schools or educational institutions use Microsoft Word application; hence, installing WordTalk on school computers should be an easy process. WordTalk works with Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8. Moreover, it will require Microsoft Word 2007 or higher version with any of these operating systems. WordTalk is also approved and certified by Microsoft and its license information is included on its website; however, teachers will require approvals from the leadership team to use this plugin in the classrooms, libraries, and computer laboratories.

Another important aspect to consider when installing WordTalk is its access. Since most schools have firewalls blocking the download and installation of this plugin, Information Technology department needs to be consulted before installing WordTalk on a school computer. My recommendation would be to get IT department involved in installing WordTalk on various computers.

IT department or teachers may need to train students who are new to WordTalk. IT department at schools may not need to support WordTalk because its technical support is provided on the website and through directly contacting the developers of WordTalk. However, any issues arising from the malfunction of Microsoft Word can be directed to IT department.

References

CALL Scotland. (2014). WordTalk. Retrieved from http://www.wordtalk.org.uk/Home/

Claro Software Ltd. (2015). Claro Software. Retrieved from http://www.clarosoftware.com/

Texthelp Ltd. (2015). Read&Write. Retrieved from http://www.texthelp.com/UK/Our-products/Readwrite

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Learning Task 2A – Compensatory Support Introduction

Optical Character Recognition System – text scanning and decoding compensatory support

General Overview of Optical Character Recognition (OCR) System

An OCR system is a technology that allows a user to scan the printed text into a computer or handheld electronic device. Then, the scanned text is read aloud via a screen reading program. The scanned text is usually stored in an electronic form in a personal computer or portable storage device. OCR system is available as a stand-alone unit, computer software, and as a portable device. OCR technology was initially designed for blind and visually impaired persons but it can be used by other people who struggle with reading printed materials. Here is a link to the video showing the operation of OCR system: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BwalGlPW7OQ

The kinds of students who may benefit from OCR system

OCR system is beneficial to the following students:

  • Students who are blind or visually impaired
  • Students who are suffering from visual stress, also known as Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome, Irlen Syndrome, and Asfedia. Since this condition is related to the central nervous system and the eye sight, reading printed materials is very difficult for these students
  • Students who have learning disabilities in reading (dyslexia) and prefer learning through audio (text read aloud by screen reading program of the OCR technology)
  • Students who are not able to read printed materials independently
  • Students who struggle with decoding printed materials
  • Students who struggle with reading comprehension. Some OCR technologies like Read and Write Gold and ClaroRead Plus “offer features that are designed to meet the needs of people who struggle with reading comprehension” (Dell et al., 2012, p. 73)
  • Students who are learning English as a second language (ESL learners)
  • Students who have learning disabilities related to motor coordination (dyspraxia). These students may struggle with hand-eye coordination when reading printed materials

How the OCR system may support student learning

OCR system can support student learning in the following ways:

  • OCR system can be conveniently accessed at any time since the software is installed on a computer. Portable OCR technology is also available to students at anytime and anywhere since it can be carried over to different learning environments
  • It creates an inclusive learning environment by enabling students with visual impairments and students who struggle with reading tasks to participate in reading activities
  • Providing access to printed learning materials to these struggling students via OCR technology creates learning opportunities where students can collaborate with their peers through classroom discussions and this can also make them feel more motivated in the learning process
  • OCR technology also promotes students’ independence because scanned learning materials can be read aloud without the help of teachers or other educational staff
  • OCR technology can also be very helpful during learning assessments. Students can perform well during tests since they would not have to worry about their struggles with reading (test content can be scanned and read aloud to students); hence, this can decrease their anxiety levels during assessments

 

Conditions in the learning environment that would support the effective use of OCR technology

In order to ensure the effective use of OCR compensatory support, printed learning materials should be available in the required format and size in order to successfully scan and convert the printed text into an electronic format. Moreover, in order to serve the needs of students with different reading levels, printed materials should be available and organized according to different reading levels.

Usage of technology in the classroom should be encouraged so that students who are using OCR technology are not seen as students with disabilities or students who are unable to learn without technology. Moreover, students struggling with reading should also have access to OCR system at home for continuous improvement in reading abilities. Lastly, technical support for this compensatory tool should be available at all times in order to ensure its continuous use by students.

The planning considerations for embedding the OCR technology in learning activities and/or teaching routines

The following should be considered for embedding the OCR technology in learning activities and/or teaching routines:

  • All printed text should be compatible with OCR system in order to ensure successful scanning of the printed materials
  • Appropriate OCR technology should be selected for embedding it in learning activities. The selection process should be a team effort involving teachers, parents, students, and AT specialists and SETT framework can be very helpful in matching the appropriate technology with students’ needs, strengths, and abilities
  • Any selected OCR technology should be assessed during trial period before fully implementing it in the learning activities
  • If OCR technology will be installed as a software on a computer, then computers and other accessories like headsets should be available
  • Training for using OCR technology should be provided to students, teachers, and parents before embedding it in learning activities
  • Cost of OCR technology, its installation, its software licenses, hardware and other equipment, technical support, and hardware maintenance should be planned before its implementation in learning activities
  • Other students with learning disabilities and students who can also benefit from the OCR technology should be encouraged to use this technology in order to gain its wide acceptance in the learning activities and/or teaching routines

The types of learning activities (tasks) OCR technology would facilitate

OCR technology would facilitate the following types of learning activities (tasks):

  • Reading activities where printed materials are scanned and read by the OCR technology. Reading activities can also be done independently at home
  • In-class discussions after the reading activities
  • For ESL learners, the screen reading program in the OCR technology will facilitate pronunciation exercise where students will recognize the spelling of the words and will learn to correctly pronounce each word
  • For ESL students and students with difficulties in reading comprehension, the screen reading program in the OCR technology will also facilitate reading comprehension exercise by enabling students to comprehend each word as it is spoken aloud

Current Research (2-3 articles)

The following peer reviewed articles provide more information on OCR technology and how can this technology support students struggling with reading printed materials:

Higgins, E. L., & Raskind, M. H. (2005). The compensatory effectiveness of the Quicktionary Reading Pen II on the reading comprehension of students with learning disabilities. Journal Of Special Education Technology, 20(1), 31-40.

McCullough, C. S. (1995). Using computer technology to monitor student progress and remediate reading problems. School Psychology Review, 24(3), 426-439.

Pattillo, S. T., Heller, K. W., & Smith, M. (2004). The impact of a modified repeated-reading strategy paired with optical character recognition on the reading rates of students with visual impairments. Journal Of Visual Impairment And Blindness, 98(1), 28-46.

References

Dell, A. G., Newton, D. A., & Petroff, J. G. (2012). Assistive technology in the classroom: Enhancing the school experiences of students with disabilities, Second Edition. Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall.

 

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Toolkit Item 2 for Universal Designs for Learning

Name of the resource

Maths Dictionary for Kids

Summary of the Maths Dictionary and how it can be accessed

Maths Dictionary for kids is a free web resource that contains animated and interactive math dictionary for students which explains over 600 common mathematical terms in simple language. Maths Dictionary is created by Jenny Eather and this online resource can be accessed from the following URL: http://www.amathsdictionaryforkids.com/dictionary.html

Maths Dictionary provides a list of mathematical terms arranged alphabetically where the user can select any term by clicking on it. For each term that is displayed, a definition is provided with relevant examples. All examples use pictures and colors to depict each mathematical term. Below each example, the user is provided with practice questions in order to check the understanding of that particular mathematical term. Most of the practice questions are in the form of games and quizzes. Maths Dictionary also provides students with over 200 printable math charts and posters which can be used at home or in school (Eather, 2014). There is also a help section on the website and it provides assistance to users on issues like spelling, size of the fonts, and clocks/time. Users are also encouraged to provide feedback about the website via email address given on the website. Finally, any information displayed on the website about any mathematical term is printable.

Maths Dictionary is beneficial to students who have math disabilities or difficulties in understanding math language, symbols, and terms. Hence, this online resource builds mathematical comprehension skills of these students. Moreover, students with vision problems can benefit from this resource because it uses various colors to show the difference among various objects. All mathematical terms and its practice questions can be accessed multiple times for more practice and since this resource is available online, it can be accessed by students from anywhere and from any mobile device.

My reasons for selecting Maths Dictionary

I have chosen Maths Dictionary because it is a great resource for a classroom which uses UDL framework as it provides multiple means of representation, multiple means of action and expression, and multiple means of engagement.

Maths Dictionary’s examples and analogies enhance students’ comprehension by activating and supplying background knowledge (Meyer et al., 2014). Moreover, through various examples and practice questions, mathematical vocabulary and symbols are clarified. All text on this online resource can be enlarged to a full screen and the usage of various colors to differentiate various objects offers alternatives for displaying visual information; thus it provides options for perception (Meyer et al., 2014).

Maths Dictionary’s practice questions allow students to track their progress and students can continue working on practice questions until they have understood a particular mathematical term. Thus, Maths Dictionary enhances students’ capacity for monitoring their progress (Meyer et al., 2014). Additionally, practice questions use various ways (in the form of games, quizzes, interactive scenarios) to engage students and some practice questions also involve different levels of difficulties. Hence, practice questions provide multiple options for expression and communication. Maths Dictionary’s ability to be accessed from any mobile device with internet connection allows students with options for physical action (Meyer et al., 2014).

Since all mathematical terms on Maths Dictionary are accompanied by interactive examples and practice questions, it motivates learners to work independently and develop their self-assessment. Hence, it provides options that can help learners to regulate their own learning (Meyer et al., 2014). Maths Dictionary also provides clear and simple instructions to students and displays its information in an interactive manner and animated fashion in order to help learners understand a particular mathematical term in simple language. It is like an online instructor talking and a picture depicting the involved action! Hence, it provides options to learners for sustaining effort and motivation (Meyer et al., 2014). Moreover, students who have difficulties in understanding textual language, they get an option to watch the interactive images in order to understand a particular term. Thus, it provides students with options for recruiting their interest (Meyer et al., 2014).

Critique of the Maths Dictionary including its strengths and weaknesses

Maths Dictionary is very easy to use because it only requires basic internet browsing skills. The most important aspect of Maths Dictionary which distinguishes it from other online dictionaries is its ability to display the meaning of a particular mathematical term in an animated and interactive way with ample examples, practice questions, and mathematical charts. It contains a huge list of mathematical terms and symbols with the capability of free printing.

It was difficult to think about weaknesses of this great resource. However, I wish Maths Dictionary was able to provide text-to-speech support for students with reading disabilities.

Therefore, based on the affordances and constraint of Maths Dictionary, I would highly recommend this resource to students who have math disabilities and students who wish to enhance their understanding about any mathematical term or symbol.

Decision and support needed to use Maths Dictionary in Education

Since Maths Dictionary is an online resource, students will only need access to a computer or any mobile device with an internet connection and an updated and new version of Flash Player.

Most schools’ internet contains firewall which blocks certain external websites; thus, Maths Dictionary may be blocked by school’s firewall. However, I strongly recommend this resource to all students because it contains free access to many mathematical terms and symbols on various topics. Thus, approval from leadership team will be required to use Maths Dictionary in the classrooms.

Reference

Eather, J. (2014). A Maths Dictionary for Kids 2014. Retrieved from http://www.amathsdictionaryforkids.com/dictionary.html

Meyer, A., Rose, D.H., & Gordon, D. (2014). Universal Design for Learning: Theory & Practice. Wakefield: CAST Publishing.

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Toolkit Item 1 for Universal Designs for Learning

Name of the resource

Explania

Summary of the Explania and how it can be accessed

Explania is a free web resource that contains animated explanations, interactive tutorials, and instructional videos on various topics like health, finance, technology, sports, work, and general opinions and trends. Explania was created by Instruxion, a multimedia company specialized in the creation of high-impact explanatory content (Instruxion, 2014). This resource can be accessed from the following URL: http://www.explania.com/en

Explania provides a list of videos with audio capability and the user can play any video that is available for free. When a video is selected, it directs the user to a different web page where the video is played. Due to the nature of some video clips, the user may have to press the play button at the bottom left hand side of the video player. When the video is playing, the user can pause and stop the video at any time. The user can also share the comments on the video at the bottom of the screen and on Facebook, email the video link, and most importantly, embed the video on a personal website. Each video also contains the name of its creator(s) and supporter(s) and this information can be viewed by clicking on the “i” icon at the bottom right hand side of the video player. However, videos that are not available for free require users to subscribe to those videos (Instruxion, 2014).

Most students understand difficult concepts visually through analogies and examples; hence, Explania is beneficial in explaining complex topics visually with the use of audio capabilities. Moreover, Explania is also beneficial to students who have difficulties in reading and maintaining attention when reading complex topics independently. Hence, when a video with audio is shown to them, these students benefit by improving their reading comprehension, communication, and logical thinking skills. All videos in Explania can be played multiple times and can be paused at any time in order to enable students to take brief notes and ask questions to the teacher and it will also enable the teacher to explain a certain concept that arises while watching the video. Finally, students with vision problems can also benefit from these videos because all videos have clear audio capabilities.

My reasons for selecting Explania

Throughout my teaching experience with Investment Strategies program for youths in grades 9 and 10, I come across complex topics like stocks, bonds, and mutual funds that can be difficult to learn. Thus, interactive videos in Explania can be very beneficial to my students because these videos can explain complex topics in a very simple manner through visuals, motion pictures, various colors and fonts, and audio.

Moreover, my Grade 4 and 5 students in science programs through Alberta Science Network (ASN) can also benefit from these videos. Sometimes, explaining scientific topics via textbooks or PowerPoint presentations may not work for all students. A different, interactive medium with simple examples like videos in Explania may work better for other students. Thus, videos provide another way of engaging students with the course content.

Critique of the Explania including its strengths and weaknesses

Explania is very easy to use since it requires basic internet browsing skills and all videos are available online. This resource can also be accessed from any network device and at any time. Most importantly, Explania provides videos on new topics in Science and Technology like cloud computing, internet security, and IPV6 that can be helpful to students in enhancing their knowledge on new technologies.

Although videos in Explania have strong educational value but I wish these videos had the capability to display closed captioning and the ability to play the videos in full screen mode. Closed captioning can be helpful to students with hearing disabilities and students who are new English language learners.

Therefore, based on the affordances and constraints of Explania, I would recommend this resource to students who would like clear and visual explanations of complex topics.

Decision and support needed to use Explania in Education

Since Explania is an online resource, students will need access to a computer with an internet connection. Also, headsets may be required when playing the videos in order to avoid distractions to other students in a quiet environment.

Most schools’ internet contains firewall which blocks certain external websites; thus, Explania may be blocked by school’s firewall. However, I strongly recommend this resource to all students because it contains free access to many educational videos on various topics. Thus, approval from leadership team will be required to use Explania in schools for viewing these educational videos.

Reference

Instruxion. (2014). Explania.com animated explanations. Retrieved from http://www.explania.com/en

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Toolkit Item for Designing Inclusive Learning Environments

Name of the resource

Storyline Online (Storyline)

Summary of the Storyline and how it can be accessed

Storyline is a free web resource in the form of audio and video books that contains stories read by Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Foundation members. Storyline was created by SAG Foundation and it can be accessed from the following URL: http://www.storylineonline.net/

Storyline provides a list of books where a user can select any book to be read by SAG member. When a book title is clicked, a YouTube video player will open where the user can click on play button to play the video. The video can also be played with SchoolTube and MYVR Spot. The user can select to play the video with any player by clicking on “Select Player” button on the top-left corner of the website (SAG Foundation, 2014). When the video is playing, the user can pause and stop the video, increase the volume of the video, and enlarge the video to full screen. When playing stories via YouTube, the user can also turn on closed captioning by clicking on “CC” button that appears at the bottom right part of the YouTube player. Storyline also provides activity guides for most books and these guides can be accessed from their website by clicking on “Activity Guides” link at the bottom of the main page. The users can also buy copies of the books through Amazon by clicking on “Buy These Books” link at the bottom of the main page (SAG Foundation, 2014).

Storyline is beneficial to students who have difficulties in reading and maintaining attention when reading independently. Hence, when a book is read to them, these students can benefit by improving their reading comprehension, communication, and logical thinking skills. Students with hearing difficulties and students who are new English learners can also benefit from Storyline because all videos played with YouTube player display closed captioning. Moreover, playing these videos multiple times and pausing them at any time will enable students to take brief notes and ask questions to the teacher and it will also enable the teacher to explain a certain concept that arises while watching the video. Students with vision problems can also benefit from these videos because all videos have clear audio capabilities. Finally, the users can test their comprehension after the story has been read out to them by completing the study guides.

My reasons for selecting Storyline

When I was volunteering with SARAW (reading and writing) program at the Bow Valley College, we had few volunteer readers to support all learners; so all readers were assigned to a big group of learners. That compromised one-on-one support for each learner since all learners were students with special needs. SARAW program also had limited books; hence, most learners shared books. With Storyline, hard copies of books will not be required, students can access the stories at home and at any time, and a volunteer can play the story for three to five students and observe their interactions when the story is being read out. Therefore, I think this resource is beneficial to all students of the SARAW program.

Critique of the Storyline including its strengths and weaknesses

Storyline is very easy to use since it requires basic internet browsing skills and all books are stored and available online. This resource is also convenient because all users can access this resource from any network device and at any time. Storyline’s creators have also provided FAQs on their website; these FAQs are helpful to teachers and users for troubleshooting issues related to playing the videos.

Currently, Storyline videos work with only three video players; hence, it does not support other highly used players like windows media player, QuickTime, and VLC player. Moreover, the closed captioning is only available for videos played using YouTube. Storyline can also run out of videos for frequent or heavy users because it does not regularly release more book titles.

Therefore, based on the affordances and constraints of Storyline, I would recommend this resource to students who would like to hear stories being read out to them and who have access to YouTube, SchoolTube, or MYVR Spot player.

Decision and support needed to use Storyline in Education

Since all books are available online, students will need access to a computer with an internet connection of 500+ Kbps (SAG Foundation, 2014). Also, headsets may be required when playing the stories in order to avoid distractions to other students in a quiet environment. However, educators willing to use this resource in their classrooms, libraries, and computer laboratories will need approvals from the leadership team.

Most schools’ internet contains firewall which blocks certain external applications like YouTube. Students can use other players when watching videos; however, I recommend users to use YouTube due to its ability to display closed captioning. Thus, approval from leadership team will be required to use YouTube for viewing these online stories.

Reference

SAG Foundation. (2014). Storyline Online. Retrieved from http://www.storylineonline.net/

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Developing and Maintaining Quality Standards for E-learning

One of the initiatives which leadership should pay particular attention in order to develop and maintain quality standards for e-learning is to establish a list of best practices and guidelines for online courses (WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies, 2013). These best practices and guidelines will provide necessary benchmarks for addressing quality in designing and teaching online courses. Quality benchmarks will inform the stakeholders about what worked in the course, what areas need more improvements, and what was missed during the course design phase. From my experience, Quality Matters rubric for online course design for higher education contains a comprehensive list of quality standards; hence, effective course design should consider similar quality standards before implementing the course.

Moreover, it would be a good practice to include few quality aspects when assessing an online course (Ossiannilsson & Landgren, 2012). Students would benefit from online courses when quality aspects are included during course evaluation because these aspects are “seen to a great extent from the students’ perspective and with regard to their involvement, and not from a more technical point of view or from the perspective of the university’s management” (Ossiannilsson & Landgren, 2012). E-learning quality model presented by Ossiannilsson & Landgren (2012) outlines ten important quality aspects which leadership should take into account when developing online learning environment.

Lastly, in order to maintain quality standards for e-learning, leadership should also pay particular attention to providing support for faculty in terms of professional development or one-on-one support for instructors. According to Forssman (2013), faculty drop-in centers can provide one-on-one support for instructors who need assistance in integrating educational technologies in their online courses. Although these drop-in centers do not provide formal training to the faculty, they still provide valuable resources and expert advice to instructors. However, this kind of support and assistance to the faculty requires a solid allocation of budget (Forssman, 2013). Hence, if an institution is faced with enormous budget cuts, would it be fair to run online programs without providing required support to the faculty? Would that also be fair to students if quality instruction is sacrificed because of insufficient budget for faculty support? These are some of the important questions which need to be considered when planning for particular online programs.

References

Forssman, V. (2013). Exploring leadership issues in educational technology implementation (D. MacLachlan, Interviewer)

. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ohOYOU1wK4&feature=youtu.be

Ossiannilsson, E. E., & Landgren, L. L. (2012). Quality in e-learning – a conceptual framework based on experiences from three international benchmarking projects. Journal Of Computer Assisted Learning, 28(1), 42-51. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2011.00439.x

WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (2013). Managing Online Education 2013: Practices in ensuring Quality. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike license.

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Organization’s key considerations that should be taken when selecting an e-learning environment

Selecting an appropriate e-learning environment can be a difficult task because the experience gained in using the environment can influence e-learners’ motivation and interest in the learning process. Hence, a careful attention is needed when selecting a particular e-learning environment in order to achieve maximum pedagogical benefits.

One of the key considerations that should be taken when selecting an e-learning environment is the environment’s ability to handle collaboration and sharing of learning resources among e-learners. Online group discussion forums like “out-of-classroom interactions [in LMS, for example, can] ….. have potential instructional value and can help strengthen interpersonal relationships between and among students and faculty that enhance the learning community inside the classroom” (Dunlap & Lowenthal, 2009). The selection of e-learning environment with access to tools like Wiki technology enables sharing of learning resources among course participants. Moreover, this collaborative activity enables both learners and teachers to share each other’s ideas and knowledge and “establish a collective repository of expertise in a subject area which is refined over time by the contributions and problem-solving of interested individuals” (Alzahrani & Woollard, 2012).

Instructor’s support and assistance are also one of the key considerations that should be taken when selecting an e-learning environment. Through e-learning environment, the instructor is able to provide feedback and review on students’ online work. Support provided by the instructor on online discussion forums forms an integral part of any e-learning environment because as a moderator of online discussions, the instructor is able to guide the students in the right direction if a discussion gets out of focus (Garrison & Vaughan, 2008). Also, instructor’s support via emails and online FAQs, weekly emails and reminders to the class help students to stay up-to-date with current course content and deliverables.

When selecting a particular e-learning environment, it would be beneficial to consider an environment which can accommodate different learning styles using various technology preferences (Saeed et Al., 2009). Technologies like blogs, podcasts, wikis, and web bookmarks can support learners with different learning preferences and that in turn can enhance the effectiveness of the learning process (Saeed et al., 2009). However, can it be possible to achieve an optimal e-learning environment that would accommodate learning styles of all learners? And are there any specific technologies that should be incorporated into the learning process in order to achieve optimal e-learning environment? These are some of the questions which I think need further research and analysis in order to achieve e-learning environment which can accommodate learning styles of all learners.

References:

Alzahrani, I., & Woollard, J. (2012). The Potential of Wiki Technology as an E-Learning Tool in Science and Education; Perspectives of Undergraduate Students in Al-Baha University, Saudi Arabia. Online Submission.

Dunlap, J. & Lowenthal, P. (2009). Tweeting the Night Away: Using Twitter to enhance social presence. Journal of Information Systems Education, 20(2), 129-135.

Garrison, D.R. & Vaughan, N. (2008). Blended Learning in Higher Education – Framework, Principles, and Guidelines. San Francisco, CA : Jossey-Bass.

Saeed, N., Yang, Y., & Sinnappan, S. (2009). Emerging Web Technologies in Higher Education: A Case of Incorporating Blogs, Podcasts and Social Bookmarks in a Web Programming Course based on Students’ Learning Styles and Technology Preferences. Educational Technology & Society, 12(4), 98-109.

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MOOCs within K-12 System and in Professional Development

One of the interesting learning experiences I encountered when reading articles presented by Barbour (2013) and Allen & Seaman (2014) is the potential of massive open online courses (MOOCs) within the K-12 system. MOOCs as mentioned by Verena Roberts in Barbour (2013) is a cost-effective learning solution to students seeking to educate themselves. These courses are offered for free to people outside of the institution and “there is typically no credit given for completion of [MOOCs]” (Allen & Seaman, 2014).

MOOCs in Blended learning environment provide students with learning opportunities where students interact with each other using various digital tools. My teaching experience with Investment Strategies program (ISP), which involves in-class discussions and online group activities and stock market simulation is a form of MOOC using Blended learning. Just like MOOC where cost is eliminated, ISP program provides students with skills and knowledge in investments at no cost and is considered to be one of the first initiatives in educating students who would be interested in becoming future investors. However, ISP is offered locally where Grade 10 students from different schools around Calgary participate online. Thus, the online student participation is not at an international level.

Working professionals seeking to gain new skills at work or enhance their skills to a different level can also benefit from MOOCs. Currently, modified forms of MOOCs exist where high-tech corporations like Microsoft and SAP are offering free online courses on any of their software products. However, these MOOCs are limited to employees working for organizations that subscribe products offered by these high-tech companies. Hence, non-subscribers who are interested in gaining new skills in using these products have to pay substantial amount of money for their professional development. In my opinion, basic training for individuals who are interested in learning new skills should be offered using MOOCs.

Moreover, from my experience and after talking to people within my specialization, there is a national shortage of professionals specialized in Microsoft Dynamics AX. Can basic online training in Dynamics AX via MOOCs resolve this shortage? I strongly think it can. MOOCs can provide starting point for someone considering to get into a demanding career in Dynamics AX. I also think program developers and organizations interested in investing in MOOCs would benefit from research carried out to determine the effect of MOOCs in increasing the number of professionals specialized in Dynamics AX.

References:

Allen, I. and Seaman, J. (2014) Grade Change: Tracking Online Learning in the United States. Wellesley MA: Babson College/Sloan Foundation

Barbour, M.K. (2013). State of the nation study: K-12 Online Learning in Canada. Victoria, BC: Open School BC

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Article Critique for a case study on the use of Blended Learning to encourage Computer Science students to study

Article Citation

Perez-Marin, D., & Pascual-Nieto, I. (2012). A Case Study on the Use of Blended Learning to Encourage Computer Science Students to Study. Journal Of Science Education And Technology, 21(1), 74-82. Retrieved from: http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.lib.ucalgary.ca/10.1007/s10956-011-9283-6.

Article Summary

This article reports on the findings of a study about the effectiveness of Blended Learning in encouraging Computer Science students to study the concepts covered in the course. According to the authors, Computer Science students tend to devote less time in studying concepts after class; hence, the study was carried out to determine if Blended Learning improved students’ studying habits after class and if it improved the students’ performance in the exams. The study also focused on students’ experiences and perceptions about Blended Learning setting as determined from their comments shared with their instructors and from voluntary, anonymous satisfaction questionnaire.

The study was conducted with 131 second-year Spanish Computer Science university students taking a mandatory course in Operating Systems from February to June 2008. The course involved computer programming exercises and theoretical concepts in Operating Systems. 131 students were distributed into 8 groups and each group had a different schedule for in-class session. Out of 131 students in this study, 102 were male students while 29 were female students. Also, 27 students out of 131 students had outstanding scores and they were put into a special group of gifted students.

In this Blended Learning setting, students attended traditional, face-to-face sessions in the laboratory for 3 months where they solved practical exercises. In the last in-class session (at the beginning of May), students voluntarily participated in the experiment by completing a pre-test with five multiple-choice questions related to the lesson covered in the class. After the pre-test, students were divided randomly into two groups – control group and test group – to study the same lesson for 1 hour. Students in the control group studied with printed documentation only while the students in the test group studied with the computer application called Willow which is a free-text scoring computer application for conceptual formative assessment and it provides immediate feedback to questions answered by students (Perez-Marin & Pascual-Nieto, 2012). Students’ reactions while studying in the last hour were also observed by the same researcher in all 8 in-class sessions. After 1 hour, all students completed post-test and satisfaction questionnaire. Finally, from this last session until the final exam in June, students were allowed to study course concepts using Willow or printed documentation.

The results of this study were evaluated based on direct observations of students’ reactions in class, students’ performance in pre-test and post-test, results of satisfaction questionnaire, and the frequency of study with Willow or with printed documentation from the last class until the final exam in June.

From in-class pre-test and post-test results, there was an increase in post-test score for students who used computers to study for the test. However, those differences were not statistically significant; hence, the goal of the experiment was not show that students will achieve higher scores after 1 hour of studying but the goal was to show that “it is necessary to study more before the exam and during several weeks” (Perez-Marin & Pascual-Nieto, 2012, p.78). Moreover, there were no significant differences between the group of gifted students and the rest of the students. Students in the control group also complained about using printed documentation when studying for the test while the students in the test group were fully engaged when studying with a computer.

The results of the study as determined from the satisfaction questionnaire showed that 87% of the 131 students believed that “the computer is a good complement for conceptual study” (Perez-Marin & Pascual-Nieto, 2012, p.79). Moreover, 65% of the 131 students preferred to study with the computer and “81% of the 131 students stated that they intended to study with the computer instead of using the printed documentation” (Perez-Marin & Pascual-Nieto, 2012, p.79). Finally, only 12 students provided negative comments but all of these comments were regarding Willow.

When students were allowed to choose studying for the final exam using a computer or a printed documentation, 99% of the students asked for a Willow account in order to study online and only 1 student requested printed documentation. However, this student also requested a Willow account. Also, unlike traditional studying using printed documentation where students procrastinated their studying until few days before the exam, students who used Willow started their studying a month before the exam and this frequency trend was observed from the registration data available in Willow.

The findings of this study showed the benefits of using Blended Learning for computer science students because it encouraged the students to study after the class. Blended Learning is also a solution to students who enjoy studying the course concepts on the computer than reading the printed materials because it ensures “higher levels of engagement and higher frequency of study” (Perez-Marin & Pascual-Nieto, 2012, p.80). The researchers also found all the results to be the same for average students and outstanding students in the special group.

Finally, the authors propose that further research studies will be conducted to determine how “Blended Learning setting can be adapted to other domains to help other students to develop some study skills and avoid procrastination” (Perez-Marin & Pascual-Nieto, 2012, p.81). The authors also propose conducting the same research study with other free-text scoring applications and determine their effect on the Blended Learning setting.

Article Critique

Overall, I found the research study described in this article and its results to be valid and relevant to Blended Learning. I also feel that the research article is well written because the authors’ conclusions and further research work are aligned with the findings presented in the literature review. The other strength of this article is its ability in presenting the results of the research study statistically in a table and bar graphs in order to clearly show major trends and data differences.

However, this research study has the potential to increase the reliability of its results and establish a stronger support for its conclusion by increasing the sample size. Sample size can be increased by carrying out the same experiment over a number of years; thus, this would gather more qualitative data from the respondents. Alternatively, the sample size can be increased by carrying out the same experiment with other similar Computer Science courses.

I also feel that since requesting of paper documentation was done in a classroom setting, there may have been a peer pressure involved which would have impacted other students’ decision and preference to study with paper documentation. If each student shared their preference privately with the researcher outside the classroom environment, then this may have produced different results of the experiment.

Moreover, the researchers found out that the frequency of studying using Willow increased a month before the final; hence, this showed that students started to study for their exam earlier and they did not procrastinate their studying when using Willow. However, the researchers did not have a baseline to compare their results. I feel that the researchers should have based their conclusion after comparing their results with the frequency of studying (before exam) in the traditional, face-to-face setting (non-blended setting).

I agree with authors’ suggestions about conducting the same experiment with other courses in order to determine if Blended Learning is beneficial to students majoring in other fields not related to Computer Science. I would also explore further and determine the effect of incorporating other software which enables students to have online discussion with their peers and instructor about concepts and programming assignments related to the course. In order to do this, I would reduce the time spent in face-to-face lectures and allocate that time for online discussion. This approach will indicate if students were able to learn more through online discussion which is available to them at any time.

Personal Reflection

I personally found this article interesting because of my background and experiences in Information Technology. Hence, this article is quite relevant to my experiences when I took Computer Science and Systems Engineering courses at the university because I spent a lot of time in lectures and in completing laboratory assignments but I lacked enough time to study and assess the theoretical concepts of the course. Most times, laboratory assignments did not correlate well with conceptual knowledge covered in the courses. Thus, having a Blended Learning setting where time spent in lectures is well balanced with online studying would benefit students – like myself – in developing their study skills and would make learning more enjoyable.

This article provides a very good solution to the issues most Computer Science students are encountering by showing how beneficial Blended Learning can be for these students who are mostly busy working on their assignments in the laboratory that they end up spending less time to study theoretical concepts after class. Since any computer science course requires high utilization of computers and most of these students are well adapted to using computers, having a balance between face-to-face computer laboratory sessions and online learning to study course concepts is a better approach in improving the learning experience of  Computer Science students. If I were to develop a Computer Science course using Blended Learning, I would use the same balanced approach with some minor modifications. I would also use similar software as Willow, online quizzes and games for online self assessment and studying. Additionally, I would use online application which would be a combination of D2L and online discussion forum where students would be able to access all course lessons, handouts, and communicate with their peers and instructor about course assignments and participate in online discussion moderated by the instructor. Consequently, having online discussion forums would reduce face-to-face instructions in order to achieve the balanced approach in Blended Learning.

References

Perez-Marin, D., & Pascual-Nieto, I. (2012). A Case Study on the Use of Blended Learning to Encourage Computer Science Students to Study. Journal Of Science Education And Technology, 21(1), 74-82. Retrieved from: http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.lib.ucalgary.ca/10.1007/s10956-011-9283-6.

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Creating Digital Content

I had a great experience exploring web tools that I had never used before. The tools I have used to create digital content in this course are HelloSlide for creating a digital media presentation, BookBuilder for creating an Ebook, and Webs for creating a website. Webs has been my best tool so far! I also enjoyed working with Adobe Photoshop Elements 11 for editing pictures on my first blog posting.

Digital media establishes a flexible learning environment where learners can access digital content and share their ideas without having to worry about geographical, time, and space constraints. Moreover, all the useful resources on the internet can be integrated into the digital media – for example, on a website or in an E-Book – and presented to the learners in order to enhance the learning process and make it more effective.

However, there are some pedagogical challenges in creating digital media. It has been a difficult task to successfully incorporate all the learning outcomes when using a particular tool to create digital media. For instance, if my group of learners benefit from watching a video with audio capability and a certain tool does not support the type of video or audio file, then it becomes a difficult task to think about other options in order to meet those learning outcomes. Thus, the lesson I have learned from my experience is to never rely on one particular tool but keep on looking for the tool which is most beneficial in incorporating all the learning outcomes.

One of the good practices when creating digital media is to have a thorough learner analysis and paper prototype. I found these resources to be helpful because they indicated the requirements for my design; hence through these requirements, I was able to identify the appropriate pedagogical approaches to use in my digital media in order to meet the required learning outcomes.

It is also a good practice to have the design of the digital media reviewed by peers after taking into consideration its learning outcomes. I was quite surprised with the constructive feedback I received from my peers on my digital media projects and how these feedbacks were helpful in indicating weak aspects of my design and in improving the overall design of my projects.

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