I've set up many university students with what I call "the backpackable scanner" - the LiDE series of flatbed scanners from Canon which sell cheaply (typically US $35-$75), weigh under two pounds, need no electrical power (just a laptop's USB connection), and come with a great "lite" version of OmniPage. With that scanner carried along they can create instant conversions of any printed text to a digital form usable by text-reading software almost anywhere they find themselves (classroom quizzes, in the library stacks). It's a great solution, but still, we're at "almost anywhere."
Now, "almost anywhere" becomes "anywhere," with a digital camera and an online service called ScanR.
ScanR allows you to turn your mobile phone [with 2-megapixel or better camera] or digital camera into a full-service scanner. Take a picture of a document or even a whiteboard, send it to ScanR directly from your mobile or your computer, and they will convert it into a PDF file (like Adobe Acrobat) or a text-file and deliver it back to you. ScanR is free for very limited use (5 conversions per month) or fee based (US $2.99/month) for unlimited use.
Now, there's one more essential reason to have mobile phones in the classroom - ScanR just made the phone the best notetaking support possible. But think of all the other uses - a dyslexic student or worker could quickly convert print into text for a screen-reader wherever they might be. Attention-challenged students could grab the whiteboard information even if they had needed to escape the room for a few minutes. Literacy-impaired students can make substantially better use of print libraries. I can also see great uses of this for senior citizens who might need to alter text into more readable forms - and, of course, it already seems well on its way to being an essential business tool.
- Ira Socol