Sunday, August 22, 2010

Pediatric Potentials-Great Workshop Day Part 2

As I shared in my first post, I spent the day with a group of fantastic Occupational Therapists talking about some of the new developments in the field of assistive technology. The OT's at Pediatric Potentials of West Essex were very excited about using the iPad for the students that they see. I was able to do an overview of the iPad and demonstrated some apps that I thought they would be interested Since many of the OT's work with students who have dysgraphia I demonstrated Dragon Dictation from Nuance which is available for the iPod Touch and iPad. Dragon Dictation is a free app that you can download from the Apple's App Store and begin to use within seconds. To use the app simply launch it an press the big "record button." Within seconds your speech is transcribed into editable text that can be sent as an email or copied and pasted into your favorite word processor app on the iPad. Dragon Dictation worked flawlessly and many of the OT's in the workshop were not only amazed but wanted to try it out with some of the students on their case load. Dragon Dictation is a powerful tool for students with writing disabilities. After the text was transcribed, I copied it and pasted it into SpeakiT! a text to speech application with a high quality text to speech engine. Now a student could listen to the text to make sure that there were no errors. Using the combination of Dragon Dictation and SpeakiT! is a wonderful set of tools for students who need writing and reading support.

While I was at the ISTE 2010 Conference I reconnected with the folks at Renaissance Learning the developers of the Alphasmart line of products. For many years I was a big evangelist for the Alphasmart and have used it with hundreds of students who presented with writing disabilities. When Alphasmart sold their product to Renaissance Learning I lost touch with the product line and the new developments but at ISTE 2010 I reconnected with Jan Bryan, Head of Professional Development at Renaissance Learning and she was kind enough to send me a new NEO 2 to review. I now have had a chance to work with a new NEO 2 from Renaissance Learning and have enjoyed spending some time looking at all of the new features as well as exploring the new partnerships they have made. While the NEO 2 looks very much like the original NEO that I had used, under the hood the NEO 2 supports more memory allowing one to run more Smart Applets. The NEO 2 now has built-in IEEE 802.15 wireless connectivity that when coupled with the Renaissance Receiver allows students to quickly send and receive files from the teacher's work station. Using the wireless capability students can now quickly print documents to the default printer that the teacher has set up by simply pressing the Print key on the NEO 2.

One of the features which I was eager to try out was sending and editing Google Doc files. With so many schools moving to Google Docs this would allow students access to their files in the cloud that they could access and edit from their NEO 2. With the Renaissance Receiver plugged into my computer I was ready to now try to access my Google Docs in the cloud. Connecting to my Google account and my documents was a cinch and within seconds I was editing one my Google Docs and sending changes to the cloud. With this feature teachers can create assignments and students can access their files both at home an at school. Connecting the NEO 2 to Google Docs was straight forward and easy to do. While some educators may argue that the screen size of the NEO 2 is too small- I have always seen it as an advantage for certain students in helping them to stay focused and not being as distracted by all of the other features that one might find on a laptop computer. With the ability of the NEO 2 to connect to Google Docs all kinds of writing activities are now possible. This is certainly an impressive feature to say the least and one that many teachers and students will be glad to have access to.

One of the new applications that I was really impressed with is the 2Know! Toolbar student response software application. Using the NEO 2 as a responder, teachers can quickly set up adhoc questions using a variety of different formats to query their students. With NEO 2 and 2Know! Toolbar, you can ask multiple choice, true/false, yes/no, numeric, and even short answer questions, and students respond immediately. Once students respond, the teacher in real times can automatically see the tallies and student responses in a graphical format. During the workshop I was able to try the 2Know Toolbar with my NEO 2 to demonstrate how it could be used in the classroom. What I liked most about the 2Know! Toolbar was the ease of setup and the quick feedback it provided once my participants responded. Unlike other responder systems I really liked the fact that students could type short answer responses on the full size keyboard that could be instantly evaluated by the teacher. The NEO 2 offers a lot for possibilities now for both teachers and students and it is clear that partnerships that Renaissance Learning has made have paid off in terms of new features and functionality. It is exciting for me to see that one of the tools that I evangelized, continues to grow and develop and provide students and teachers access to technology in ways that were just not possible with earlier iterations of the device.

All in all it was a full day at Pediatric Potentials, but one that was filled with all kind of possibilities as we explored a range of new technologies to support learning in the classroom and at home. If you are thinking about bring these tools to your school or classroom send me an email to see how I can help you out.

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