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Archive for the ‘Innovation’ Category

The TechDis voices are young English voices which are free to use for all post 16 students and staff. You can find more information on how to register here.

Once you have registered there are some things you need to be aware of so you can either install the voices yourself or ask your IT department. All the information is in this short video.

Installing The Voice – What You Need to Know from JISC TechDis on Vimeo.

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One of the sections of toolbox is focussed on planning. However, like all the resource son toolbox they can also be found via the ‘Different Needs’ section.  For example under the Memory and Concentration section you will find lots of ideas to help to keep you on track of your work or to jog your memory when you need to remember to do a certain task.    Using sticky notes which are part of the Windows 7 operating system is a good way to keep  a reminder on your screen – until you’ve got the chance to actually do your task.

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Last week I was fortunate to attend the International Conference on Computers Helping People with Special Needs (ICCHP) at the Johannes Kepler University in Linz, Austria.  We (Techdis) ran a special thematic session with the focus on putting the disabled student in charge.  After some welcoming speeches to both the conference and the region (Upper Austria) we kicked off with two excellent keynotes from both Gerhard Widmer and Kevin Carey.  The first was on using computers to understand access and interact with music.  He showed the ‘performance worm’ which gave a visual representation of a piece of music and you could compare the same piece played by different performers.  Kevin Carey is the Chair of the RNIB and he gave an impassioned speech on the need for author engineered public domain documents. All the keynote sessions and our track sessions had simultaneous sign and text translations for the audience.

Unfortunately the session overran which had a knock on effect for the rest of the day.  I chaired the next two sessions and we had some brilliant papers from all over the world.  Highlights for me included practical solutions for teaching and research with deaf or hard of hearing students,  a project for teaching blind children music from Brazil and two examples of localised installations of Robobraille, one for Danish schools and one at Stanford University.

There were two papers from Poorna Kushalnagar who discussed community based participatory approach in research with practical examples from within the deaf and hard of hearing community, and on research using eye gaze technology to inform those who are delivering to users who need either signed or text interpretation.  Both papers had concrete and practical solutions to making a difference for users and teaching/lecture staff.

Dolores Tomé  gave a great introduction to the use of braille for teaching blind children music in Brazil.  She spoke in Portuguese while José Borges did a simultaneous translation into English – this was also translated to signs and text – a first for  me at least!   José Borges then explained how they use the musibraille software to teach music to blind children.  They concluded their session with an invitation to the 2016 Paralympic games in Rio de Janeiro.

Sean Keegan from Stanford University in the USA explained how they had built a Robobraille installation for the staff and students at Stanford.  This freed up the specialist staff so they could concentrate on creating alternative formats for the less straight forward documentation.  The Danish government have also implemented a Robobraille installation for their schools across the country as explained by Lars Christienson which has supported the integration of visually impaired students into mainstream education.

We had two papers to deliver on the first day.  One was from my colleague Alistair McNaught suggesting an alternative approach to alternative formats.  In this he emphasises the myth of responsibility with librarians being ideally placed to offer alternative formats from publishers – with a good plug for our publisher look up site.  The other paper was highlighting the work done at National Star College in the development of InStep a video assessment tool based on InFolio.

On Thursday morning I discussed the work we have done on the TechDis Toolbox and demonstrated both TechDis Jess and TechDis Jack.  I was slightly astonished to discover that despite this being a Universal Learning Design track no delegate there was aware of how to use reflow and autoscroll in Adobe reader.

The conference dinner on Thursday evening was well attended and accompanied by one of the keynotes – Bruno Bechburger who is not only a Professor of Mathematics but also an excellent clarinetist.

As with many conferences the discussion and networking during the coffee breaks was as useful as the more formal proceedings and I made many very useful contacts from both home and abroad.  The next ICCHP will be in Paris in 2014 but I am looking towards the next ULD conference at the University of Masaryk in Brno – in February next year.

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The TechDis Toolbox includes resources highlighting things that may make it easier to access information on the internet.  Chrome is a browser which has been developed by Google and it has a number of options or extensions which enables a user to convert the information on a web page into a different format.

These include –

  • ChromeVox is a screen reader which can use any installed voices – such as TechDis Jess or Jack
  • Chrome Speak which reads out loud any selected text – text to speech
  • Readability – reduces the clutter on a web page and enables the user to change the font size etc
  • Flash Video Downloader – enables you to download video so that you can view it later on a PC or hand held device such as a phone or tablet.

 

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Here at TechDis we commissioned Cereproc in Edinburgh to develop two high quality synthetic voices.  Most free to use synthetic voices are very robotic and sound very unnatural.  Here’s a good explanation of what a synthetic voice is and how you could use it.

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The TechDis Toolbox TBX has a large number of resources to help you to work smarter, quicker and more efficiently.  One of the categories is Planning and Organisation giving quick and easy tips to help you be more efficient and professional.

Do you get bogged down with a never ending ‘To do lists’ perhaps you don’t even do any?  See the short video below for some ideas on managing your workload.

For more information and a downloadable guidance document on the Toolbox site itself. 

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The Open Badges and Assessment forum is looking at “investigating new ways to credentialize learning

With the upcoming release of Mozilla’s Open Badges framework this group is an opportunity for educators and interested parties to discuss the various ways such badges could be used in educational contexts.”  The whole concept of open badges is explained more fully on the Mozzilla wiki page.
There is a short one page document explaining the concept –
We’re just approaching the end of week 2 and I thought I’d add a few of my own thoughts.    You can join or just read and lurk at http://p2pu.org/en/groups/open-badges-and-assessment/ 

“I’ve been following the discussions on here with interest and it’s good to have such committed and knowledgeable contributors.  Doug’s comments that “So some badges will be static, well-known things, whereas others could be much more ad-hoc, fluid, or even humorous badges. :-)”  gives us a pretty broad remit for this project.  I’d like to offer a couple of comments.

I really like the idea of the awarding of badges by peers.  In an FE college in the North west of England they set up a staff development system to encourage their staff to use technology to enhance their teaching.  This was set up as an 8 step process from ‘uploading the course documents’ to ‘ facilitating collaborative and interactive learning’.  The nice thing about this was that once a tutor had gained their 8th level they automatically became an assessor and were able to verify work done by another colleague.  This took away the need for the staff development team to spend a large amount of their time in verification and encouraged peer development and support.  This might be a possible model for the awarding of badges within an organisation for staff or learner development.

My main experience in teaching has been with learners with complex needs (short hand for students with more than one difficulty, learning, sensory, physical or behavioural.)  I note the comments about rewards not being the end in themselves but there are very valid reasons for embracing and using them.  Many more complex learners achieve in very small and sometimes almost imperceptible steps.  Tracking learning and achievement for them is detailed and sometimes overly complex.  Involving the learner in their learning has always been something I tried to do.  I like the concept of learners assessing their own and other’s contributions to a lesson and we encouraged them to also reflect on their PLTS (personal learning and thinking skills).  We used to make the evaluation of the lesson part of the lesson and each learner reflected on their own and their peers achievements.  (we had very very small classes!)  However, this was recorded against pre-set targets etc within the information management system of the college.  How great would it have been for the students to be able to award each other and themselves badges to be added to their achievement records, portfolios or blogs.  The badges could also be used as a reminder of their achievements when the next lesson comes along (for students with short term memory loss getting to the place that you finished the last lesson is a major issue!)

An additional problem I did and still struggle to resolve is the ‘spiky profile’.  I was in a specialist provider a month or so ago as a young man showed me how he edited the college’s podcast for the week.  He was a wheel chair user and had the use of only one arm.  He also had no functional literacy (in the general sense of the word).  However, he knew what he wanted to do, and was able to use audacity well to edit the audio track, add some incidental music and record the introduction.  I could see a badges system working well to recognise and celebrate this sort of achievement.  Many learners have a level of digital literacy which is far higher than their perceived traditional literacy.  They can do what they want/need to do – upload photos to facebook, download music etc.  But couldn’t write a college newsletter. ”

 

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Mike Thrussell is a technologist at Henshaws College in Harrogate.  He’s developed an accessible interface for the YouTube website.  Many of  the students at Henshaws have a visual impairment and additional difficulties so Mike has created  an interface to address the complexity of the standard YouTube website by simplifying the functions to search for and play videos. He has blogged about it here and will be a guest blogger on our new ISC blog – part of the main Techdis blog which is currently being re-designed by Laura in our team.

The home page is simple and easy to use.  Access YouTube home page

Although the most popular searches are listed at the bottom of the home page it works for any search.  Below is the result for the search RSA.  The search result page also has a large ‘home’ button taking the user directly back to the main page.

Search results for RSA animate in YouTube

Mike has stripped the pages of any unnecessary content and ensured that all the links are correctly named to give a clear indication for users of screen readers.

Once the video is chosen the player has clear and simple control buttons.

Kaiser Chiefs video showing control buttons

You can create permanent links for specific searches that a particular student likes – so http://access.mwjt.co.uk/youtube/index.php?v=take%20that  will take you directly to a page of links for Take That videos.  Mike is keen for others to comment on the site and you can contact him at  mike.thrussell@googlemail.com .  You can follow him on Twitter as @mikethrussell or follow his blog which has videos demonstrating the use of the site.

Well done Mike – a good example of working with students, listening to their needs and creating something which makes it easier for them to be more independent.

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I was at the iPod 2010 conference at Oldham City Learning Centre yesterday.  This was a celebratory and collaborative event looking at the use of ipod touches in education.  The event started with a look at the educational context to using mobile technologies for teaching and learning, by Richard Millwood, Reader in distributed learning at the University of Bolton.   I would like to say more but the content of the presentation doesn’t seem to be available yet.  There were then a few short presentations on the use of ipods in schools.  I was particularly impressed with the presentation from the ESSA Academy in Bolton.  They had introduced iPod Touches for all pupils as part of a home/school contract.

The day was punctuated with workshops for discussion.  Unfortunately these were dominated with technical questions and while technical matters are vital to successful implementation of mobile technolgy for learning, they were not of particular interest to a non techie like me.  Perhaps future events could split the delegates according to their interest.   I was also disappointed that all the good work that has been done by the MoLeNet projects over the last 3 years was neither acknowledged nor even referred to.  It did seem to me that the delegates (and possibly the organisers) were unaware of their existence – a sad state of affairs considering the amount of work done on learning using handheld devices (not necessarily iPod touches).  As usual with these events the networking opportunties were excellent and they have set up a Ning to enable ongoing discussion and collaboration.

The afternoon session saw three year 3 and 4 pupils talking about how they used their iPods.  They were obviously keen and it was impressive to see them talk to a room of nearly 100 adults.  Finally there was a presentation from Sharon Tonner from the University of Dundee on how to enable teachers to take ownership of the tecnhologies and embed their use in their own practice.

A good event and it was useful for me to see what the school sector are doing  to embrace handheld devices.

You can catch up on tweets from the day with the hashtag #ipod2010 (I didn’t read the wifi instruction to the end so omited the proxy settings – situation normal – RTM!)  This will hopefully be the first of a number of events organised by the City Learning Centres network – I hope I’m invited to the next one.

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Rewiring Inclusion: Strategies, tools and techniques to promote barrier-free learning

A national one day conference in Nottingham at the National College on Tuesday 9 February 2010, with an optional evening session on 8 February. Organised jointly by the Association for Learning Technology and JISC TechDis.

This is the official blurb but Kevin Hickey and I will be doing a workshop on the effect that small amounts of funding for Learning Support Departments have had on the college wide ethos of technology and inclusion.

Othe workshop sessions, and plenary contributions from:

· Google’s Julian Harty – “Wave, Chrome OS, Online Docs, and Android.
What impact will they have on the environment for learning?”;

· Jane Seale from the University of Southampton;

· Yahoo! Europe’s Artur Ortega – “The Yahoo! approach to accessibility”;

· Dónal Fitzpatrick from the School of Computing at Dublin City University – “The contribution that computer science is making on inclusion”;
· Peter Hartley from Bradford University;

· Alison Mills from The Manchester College – “How a large urban college has taken inclusion to the heart of its operations”;

· James Clay from Gloucestershire College.

Full programme for the event [1 MB PDF]

A large print version is available.

The conference will focus in particular on browser technologies, Web2.0, e-learning, and mobile learning, and on the benefits these can offer to
all users, including those with disabilities or learning difficulties.

All sectors were represented in the workshop proposals and we are delighted that Independent Specialist Colleges were successful in being
selected to present alongside Universities, FE colleges, Project Consultants, and JISC Regional Support Centres.

Costs to attend:
£120 members of ALT
£160 non members of ALT
£100 dinner, bed and breakfast at the National College

Booking deadline:
Tuesday, 2 February 2010 – http://www.alt.ac.uk/conferences.php

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