At present, computer technology has become ubiquitous in the areas of education, employment, community and recreational environments. As more technology is being developed and used in education, one particular field that is growing in popularity is the area of ICT and Special Educational Needs, in particular Assistive Technology software which represents another important component of Assistive Technology. For the purposes of this article, four specific types of Assistive Technology software will be described: (a) Voice Recognition Technology (b) Visual Mapping software (c) Word Prediction software and (d) Text to Speech software. This will be followed by providing the reader with a more detailed description about Text to Speech software. A discussion about Kurzweil 3000 and the advantages of this application will be outlined, followed by an examination of the site and setting for the study. The article will finish with a description of the results that evolved in the study.
Voice Recognition software:
Voice Recognition software facilitates an alternative method to keyboard typing whereby a person can operate a computer through the mode of dictation. The user speaks into a microphone which is connected to a computer. With the appropriate software installed on the computer, the speech will be converted into text on the screen. An example of this program would include Dragon Naturally Speaking software.
Visual Mapping software:
Visual Mapping software is used to represent ideas or information in the form of symbols and pictures which can take many forms such as spider diagrams or logic charts. Lerner (2000) defines Visual Mapping software as ‘… visual representations of concepts, knowledge or information that incorporate both text and pictures’. Martin (1994) defines concept maps as being ‘two dimensional representations of cognitive structures showing the hierarchies and the interconnections of concepts involved in a discipline or sub discipline’. This category of software is composed of both Mind Maps and Concept Maps. Examples of these types of applications would include Mindjet Mindmanager and Inspiration
Word Prediction Software:
Word prediction applications normally work in conjunction with a word processor by suggesting a list of words for the user, as text is entered on the keyboard. When the pupil types the first letter of a word, a list of words is presented to them. This enables the student to focus on the background of the words rather than on the spelling of words. An example of this type of software would include Prophet and Co-Writer
Text to Speech software:
Text to Speech software is used to convert words on a computer screen into audible speech and can also be configured to speak letters, words or sentences as they are typed. This category of Assistive Technology software has many potential benefits to assist dyslexic students in both reading and writing. Examples of these types of applications would include Kurzweil 3000 and TextHelp V9.
Examining the idea of Text to Speech software in more depth, Wissick (2005) explains that this type of software is used to convert words on a computer screen into audible speech in addition to being able to speak letters, words or sentences as they are being typed.
What is Text to Speech software?
Heller (2005) explains that Text to Speech software uses a multi sensory approach which combines highlighted text with speech output. Disseldorp and Chambers (2002) also state that the ability to hear text spoken by a computer could be the key to unlocking barriers in acquiring information and providing more independent access to reading material content for these students.
Kurzweil 3000 is recognised as being one of the most comprehensive and sophisticated applications in addressing language and literacy problems for students with learning difficulties. Miller and Zahner (2004) explain that it is a reading software program which allows: (a) individuals to scan textbooks and use the reading software to dictate the various highlighted words and sentences for the student with the learning difficulty or reading problem (b) provides the definitions of words all by a click of a button and (c) It is a scanning, reading and writing solution for individuals with reading and learning difficulties. The primary aim / goal of using Kurzweil 3000 is to allow students with reading difficulties to remain in the mainstream classroom and use the reading assistance provided by the software.
Advantages of using Kurzweil 3000
Using Kurzweil 3000 has many advantages as outlined as follows: For example, Edge–Savage (2006) states that it is one of the most comprehensive applications for addressing language and literacy problems by offering content independent support for reading, writing, studying and learning. Kurzweil 3000 program is an application that is content independent and individually customisable which can be used in various curriculum areas. Kurzweil 3000 provides a digital means of engaging with text, making the text more accessible for those who use other methods of accessing a computer.
The following figures (Figures 1 – Figures 5) provide the reader with a summary of the different buttons that are available within Kurzweil 3000.
Figure 1: Snapshot of the Kurzweil 3000 toolbar and a selection of its different functions
Figure 2: Snapshot and explanation of the following Kurzweil 3000 buttons: Open tool, Scan button, Print button, Voice notes, Highlighting tools and Brainstorming button.
Figure 3: Snapshot and explanation of the following Kurzweil 3000 buttons: Definition button and Synonyms button.
Figure 4: Snapshot and explanation of the following Kurzweil 3000 buttons: Syllables button, Homophones button, Word Spelling tool and Sticky Note.
Figure 5: Breakdown and snapshot of the following Kurzweil 3000 buttons: Read mode toolbar and Page break facility.
The location for this particular study was in two different settings: (a) an I.C.T. lab in an Education Centre and (b) an ordinary classroom in a post primary school. In relation to the programme, organisation and timing of the course, the study lasted 10 weeks in total (i.e. two blocks of 5 weeks). The tutor would commence the course by delivering a presentation about the different types of Assistive Technology software and then choose a program which was deemed relatively easy for the participants to learn in order to “break the ice”. Questionnaire and interview research tools were used to gather the data for this study. All of the teachers who participated in the project were Learning Support and Resource teachers at both primary and post primary school level.
The main aim of this article was to examine teachers experiences of using the Kurzweil 3000 in an attempt to point out (a) the most positive facilities of this application, (b) the most negative facilities of this program (c) teachers views about participating in this type of training and (d) teachers general interest about finding out about other types of Assistive Technology applications.
The most useful facilities (Figure 6) found by the teachers include: the Reading tools, Definitions button Synonyms button, Spell Check tool, Font facilities and Mind Mapping tools.
Figure 6: Most useful facilities of Kurzweil 3000.
On the other hand, the most difficult facilities (Figure 7) expressed by these teachers include: the Bookmarking facility, Column Notes facility, Floating Word lists and the Word Prediction tool.
Figure 7: Most difficult facilities of Kurzweil 3000.
The main reason expressed by teachers as to why they did not find these tools particularly useful was based on not seeing the actual relevance in their students using these facilities.
Figure 8: Opinions about ICT in SEN tuition and general interest about using other Assistive Technology applications
Overall teachers believed that Kurzweil 3000 increased their interest in finding out about other Assistive Technology applications and also believed that Kurzweil 3000 is an easy program to use (Figure 8). Teachers also indicated they were satisfied with the quality and length of the training course and also believed they were more positive about the use of computers since finding out about Kurzweil 3000.
The primary objective of this article was to investigate teacher’s experiences of using Kurzweil 3000 by determining the most positive and negative features found by those who used this application in addition to examining teacher’s commentary about the I.C.T in S.E.N training course. The theme of Assistive Technology software was discussed which was followed by examining a selection of the different types of Assistive Technology software available in the field of Special Educational technology. An analysis was carried out about Kurzweil 3000 and continued with looking at the advantages of using this application. A description was provided about the site and setting for the project and concluded with the results that emerged in the study. In summary, the new version of Kurzweil 3000 is a versatile program. The most useful facilities include reading tools mind mapping tool, definitions, spelling, synonyms, good audio recording features. Teachers believe that this application does address their teaching needs and they also believe that Kurzweil 3000 can be highly geared towards student learning. One possible way of improving this application is to include a speech training program for students. Teachers needs have to be accommodated and they do need constant updated information. Concurrently, teachers have to educate themselves and research themselves about the latest technologies. At the same time, they must equip themselves with better I.C.T. skills and knowledge to use more Special Educational technology, hence, the need for more I.C.T in S.E.N programmes for teachers. Consequently, there is ‘a lot done, a lot more to do!’