27 February 2009

Architectural Assistive Technology

A recent New York Times article on adjustable classroom desks which allow students to choose whether to stand or sit, ends with this teacher quote: “We’re talking about furniture here,” she said, “plain old furniture. If it’s that simple, if it turns out to have the positive impacts everyone hopes for, wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing?”

But it isn't "plain old furniture." Every bit of furniture in every classroom, along with every light-fixture, every bit of wall, floor, and ceiling covering, every window, the room shape itself, the hall outside... these are all educational decisions which we have made, and like every educational decision we make, these enable some and disable others, favor some and damage others, and help to create specific educational outcomes.

The classroom did not "just happen." In fact, it was quite directly designed. In 1832 William Alcott (yes, of those Alcotts) began a campaign to re-design the American schoolroom. He wanted to replace benches and long tables with individual desks and chairs with backs. He wanted a certain amount of windows providing a certain quality of light. In the early 1840s he became the leading proponent of the biggest changes in classroom technology, introducing teachers to the idea of using the new "chalkboard" and having the students use handheld slates because it allowed them to try writing, and to make mistakes, without wasting precious paper.

He was quite specific. In one article he discussed the feelings of some that, for maximum flexibility, at least one whole classroom wall should be painted as a chalkboard. But he warned against this, suggesting that would be "too distracting," and that it would be better if a neutral wall color was used "above and below the chalkboard in order to focus attention."

Are you reading this in school? Look around? See any changes?

Later in the 1840s Henry Barnard joined in, basically designing the American multi-classroom school in his book School Architecture (download and read away my friends).

These educational reformers were responding to very specific ideas of education at a very specific moment in time, as the United States attempted convert a large group of foreign-language speaking Catholic immigrants into Protestant thinking Americans who could begin to work effectively in the ever enlarging mills which were just starting to make America a nation which could largely depend on its own manufacture. These ideas were not aimed at the children of the nation's elite, who continued to either be privately tutored or to attend English style private academies, thus the architecture was not aimed at creating leaders or a creative class. Instead they were heavily influenced by the design language of the Protestant churches of America. Barnard's exteriors might suggest Catholic cathedrals, but inside the walls were straight (and usually white), the distractions minimal, movement limited, and all attention directed straight ahead.

So, what we often consider "natural," or "unquestionable," was once a decision based on pedagogical assumptions. It is not “plain old furniture," it is a designed learning environment.

So, should children sit in chairs to learn? Alcott thought so, but most kids I know would rather be standing or on the floor, depending on mood and task. Should display systems cover the walls? Alcott thought not, but lots of museums are starting to think differently. Should students file into school hallways so that they know they are 'in control'? Barnard thought so, though some school designers in the 1950s (and Californians) thought students might enter classrooms directly from outside. Should classrooms have uniform lighting? Early 20th Century school designers believed this, though most other interior environments show an understanding of the value of letting the human eye shift from dimmer to brighter and back fairly often.

I was once invited to speak to a class of high school students with learning, attention, and emotional "issues." We met in one of the school's Special Education rooms. Overhead ancient fluorescent lights flickered and buzzed. There were no windows. Instead every wall surface was covered with what seemed liked thousands of pictures and blocks of text in a hundred different fonts. The seats were in rows, but placed so that one group of students faced the side of the other students. Therewere four computers and and a television set. The TV was on, the computer screens all flashed multi-colored moving screen savers. "I just can't get their attention, they are all crazy ADHD," the teacher confided.

Outside that classroom the sounds of the cafeteria and slamming lockers echoed through uncarpeted, hard-surfaced corridors. The paint was old, the lighting grim. Further outside the building was an uninspiring series of brick blocks, surrounded by fencing and guard shacks at parking lot entries. Creative grafitti at one of those entry points had converted "West BlahBlah High School" to "West BlahBlah Correctional Center."

Now, I don't want the schools Henry Barnard wanted, but he was right: Everything about your school impacts your students - from when they approach the grounds to how they enter the building. From how they get to their locker to where they sit and eat lunch. From the light in your classroom to the desk to the carpet or lack of it. The sounds, the windows, the schedule - the fencing, the trees, the PA announcements. Everything about your schools impacts the students and helps to decide which students succeed and which students fail.

I am an absolute believer in classroom technology, you who read me know that, but remember, the first technology, the biggest technology, is the classroom itself, the school building itself. When we think of technology solutions, perhaps we need to start right there.

- Ira Socol

26 February 2009

Why Roy Blount Jr. is evil...

Can Amazon's Kindle 2 read books to you?

Many of us who work in the field of literacy have been waiting for this moment. We've been waiting for Text-To-Speech to go fully mainstream, because, as this happens, access to information, to our culture, is no longer limited to the elite, to those with excellent alphabetic decoding skills, to the recipients of high-quality education.

I, as an author, refused to make my book Kindle-available before, because it was not an accessible format. I opted instead for an accessible PDF version available through Lulu.com. But now, I'll probably find the time to make a Kindle2 version possible.

But other authors feel differently. A group of self-appointed "copyright defenders" called the "Authors Guild" deeply objects to the expansion of reading. Led by their president, an author of the kind of books which lie near toilets across America (we might call this "second rate blog quality") named Roy Blount, Jr. they are insisting that Text-To-Speech systems violate their copyright. And while doing that, Mr. Blount decides that he is an expert on disability - and will (I guess personally) diagnose those worthy of assistance.

Let's "read" what Mr. Blount had to say in The New York Times:

"In fact, publishers, authors and American copyright laws have long provided for free audio availability to the blind and the guild is all for technologies that expand that availability. (The federation, though, points out that blind readers can’t independently use the Kindle 2’s visual, on-screen controls.) But that doesn’t mean Amazon should be able, without copyright-holders’ participation, to pass that service on to everyone.

"The guild is also accused of wanting to profiteer off family bedtime rituals. A lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation sarcastically warned that “parents everywhere should be on the lookout for legal papers haling them into court for reading to their kids.”

"For the record: no, the Authors Guild does not expect royalties from anybody doing non-commercial performances of “Goodnight Moon.” If parents want to send their children off to bed with the voice of Kindle 2, however, it’s another matter."

So, hear the Authors Guild clearly, despite their "denials": If the Authors Guild decides that you are "disabled enough" you can have Text-To-Speech. And if your parents are literate and able to read to you in English the Authors Guild will allow you access to bedtime stories. That is quite nice of them, isn't it?

Soon, we can expect, Roy Blount, Jr. will oppose libraries, because, if you can't afford the book, you can't have it either. Don't think so? This is a guy who who'll pull the bedtime stories away from kids of parent's with reading problems. He's quite capable of doing anything.

Listen. I wish my book was making a lot of money. I really do. But what I wish most is that people were reading it. That's why I wrote it - because I had a story I wanted to tell.

Yes, I'd like to get paid for it. But even if I did, sorry, I don't expect one piece of creation to support me forever. So copyright is a good thing, but it should never be a lifetime thing or an absolute thing. Right now Roy Blount, Jr.'s Am I Pig Enough for You Yet? already enjoys far more legal protection than medicines which take billions of dollars and years of research by thousands to create. Now I'm no fan of "big pharma" but medications get far less patent protection time than books get copyright protection time, and pharmaceuticals are passed out for free far more often than books are.

If we believe that books are important, and I think all authors should think that, then we want people to read. And it should make no difference at all how that book is read. If someone wants to buy The Drool Room, on paper or by download, or - if I get it together - on Audiobook or Kindle2 sometime this year, I don't care whether they decode the printed words, or listen to it on an electronic device, or have a friend read it to them, or touch Braille with their fingers. I don't care if they pass the book to a friend when they're done, I don't care if six people are in the car while it is being read, and any author who does is no artist in my mind, and is no supporter of literacy.

Access to information is one of the most important social justice issues of this century. And access is constantly being threatened by short-sighted, money-deperate people like the RIAA and the Authors Guild. So here's what I'd like you to do: Obviously, boycott Roy Blount, Jr.'s books. And someone, please, find and post an Authors Guild membership list so we can expand the boycott and increase the pressure.

Because if we can't even have authors united in supporting universal access to literacy, we'll never convince educators.

- Ira Socol

here's a shorter blog argument.

18 February 2009

A Primer - Text-To-Speech

A raucus debate on a national (US) list serve regarding the use of Text-To-Speech software included much argument about whether digital reading was actually "reading." But that's for a post coming soon. But one thing which surprised me was how little the literacy educators who argue that this software is either ineffective or bad actually know about the systems they oppose.

So I posted a "starter list," which I'll re-post - with a few additions - right here.

Let me try to present, in relatively short form, how some of these reading technologies operate, from the basics of Click-Speak to the sophisticated literacy and study support of WYNN.

I don't want to try to offer a definitive list, rather, a few systems that I tend to use the most, including - hopefully - a small sense of why this or that has worked for the people - youth or adult - who I have worked with.

I emphasize that I use multiple technologies myself, and that most of those that I have worked with have chosen to do the same. This is a big part of what I describe as "Toolbelt Theory" - a learned-centered, Task-based, specifically ordered, reworking of Joy Zabala's "SETT" Assistive Technology choice protocol.
A Toolbelt for a Lifetime
Toolbelt Theory for Everyone
"Toolbelt Theory" is based around the idea that as humans we are tool users, and that we choose tools most effectively when that choice begins with the Task at hand, and then considers the Environment in which that task must be performed, the Skill set of the individual (the tool chooser), and the Tools which are available (Thus the acronyn TEST).

So, we have different literacy solutions based on the variety of challenges we face, just as we have different screwdrivers and different saws.

With that said, here are some of those tools:


Click-Speak is a free Firefox add-in created by Charles L. Chen (who also created FireVox for the visually impaired). Click-Speak can read any text which appears in your browser, including, of course, anything in on-line software such as Google Docs or any email. Click-Speak has its own "toolbar" (which I do not use) which puts three square "buttons" in the upper left corner of your browser screen - White for "Read Selected Text" - Green for "Automatically Read the Whole Page" - Red for "Stop Reading." It is that simple. You can also, as I do, put those three buttons into your Firefox Bookmark Bar, cleaning up the look of your window. Or you can access these functions by right clicking anywhere on the page or on any selected text.

"Click Speak Options" - in your Firefox tool menu - allows you to choose 5 diffeent speed settings and five different voice pitches. It uses "robotic sounding" synthesized speech. Click-Speak does not highlight individual words as they are read, but does highlight sentences when reading automatically and does scroll the page.

I use Click-Speak for short web reading. Newspaper articles, emails, information I'm looking up. I also use it extensively with email and Google docs to check text I have typed or dictated, since I am much more likely to catch missing words or badly structured sentences if I listen to my writing rather than try to re-read it.I really never mind the voice, though "actor read" audiobooks have spoiled me, and I'm unlikely to try to read much 'great literature' - say, books from the Literature Network, this way.

In schools, as I've mentioned in earlier messages here, I've seen this used in many ways. Some students simply highlight unfamiliar words and right click to "read selected text" so they can hear it - significantly improving their chances of recognizing that word the next time. Other students have used it for reading whole pages of digital social studies texts, etc. We have used it to support the independent editing of student writing with Google Docs and seen dramatic results.

Among adults, I personally know about 50 people who use this as their primary reading tool, at work and at home, including things like bills now digitally sent to them. It is highly effective in employment situations because it is perfect for short readings - such as instructions, supervisor messages, time schedules, etc. It can easily be added to the free AccessApps usb stick system, and can this be carried with you.

Microsoft Reader

This is a Windows only system (many free solutions are, it is much, much harder to build third party accessibility solutions for Apple O/S than for Microsoft or Linux), and it is not widely promoted, but I love it, and so do many of those who have tried it. Microsoft Reader gives you a 'book-looking' page on your computer, reads with word-by-word highlighting, allows you to place bookmarks, to highlight text, to take notes (linked to specific places in the text, which thus allows its use as a testing system), you can even draw pictures, and, if using it on a tablet PC, draw on the page itself (a feature that we're starting to see has interesting impacts on ASD users and some dyslexics).

MS Reader has a somewhat clunky install. You have to download the basic program - for Desktop or Laptop - or - for Tablet PC - then download the Text-to-Speech (TTS) software - then the Dictionaries (the Encarta if you want right-click word definition) - and finally, right-now for Word2000 or Word2003 only, the "RMR" tool, which puts a toolbar icon in your Microsoft Word which allows instant conversion of any text into the E-book format - Microsoft folks assure me that a Word2007 version is on the way.

MS Reader puts your books in the "MyLibrary" folder in your Windows "My Documents" folder. There are thousands of books already available in this format, all the classics are at the University of Virginia - but with Word2003 it is incredibly easy to put any text (with or without pictures) into this format, and even very young kids seem to love it (they can read over and over again even if mom or dad isn't available.).

It does have, again, the "robot voice," but you can control speed, the pitch, type size, make the page full-screen, have it speak all the controls (or not).

I use this for books. I use it for some academic papers. Many teachers use it for accessible testing (because it is free), and I use it for assessment at Voc/Rehab. In employment we've put employee handbooks, etc, into this form. We've put training manuals into this form. We've even put social service agency intake instructions into this form.

It is not very "flexible" - but it is a wonderful accessible system.

Adobe Reader 8 or 9

The speech function ("Read Out Loud") in Adobe Reader 8 or 9 has been great for me and others faced with the flood of Acrobat Docs. Even if we do not use it for reading vast amounts of text we use it to see if the article is worth the time, or to grab chunks of text in classes or meetings. To use Read Out Loud, opeen your document and go to the View Menu. Go down to "Read Out Loud" then choose "Activate Read Outloud." (this takes time on long documents, so it is something you want to do in advance) The go back to -View- Read Out Loud - and choose "read entire page" or "read to end of document" (from your cursor location), then "stop" when you are done. Free.


Dial2Do allows non-readers to send text messages. For free. Sign up at http://www.dial2do.com/ and then call their number and speak your text and tell them where to send it. An essential employment tool for those who struggle with print, also for anyone who drives. (see SpinVox in the UK, also available with most US cellphone systems)


AbbyMe is the reverse of Dial2Do, it allows "you" (or a boss) to text a voice message to a non-reader. For free. Sign up, or just use the service, at http://www.abbyme.com/ You type the message, AbbyMe calls the person and speaks it.

Mobile Phone Camera Text-To-Speech
Yes, Nokia and Kurzweil have an expensive and wonderful joint effort, a phone which takes a picture of a document and converts it to text which is then read aloud. It is great stuff but it also costs something north of $1,500 (US). There are, however, three free solutions:

Take a picture of a document or whiteboard with your 2mp or better camera phone, send it to ScanR, and for $3 or $5 a month, get accessible text sent back to your phone or email.

Or do the same with Qipit.

Or, for the more tech savvy, add TopOCR to your phone and do it yourself.


Freedom Scientific's WYNN - is a full-featured literacy and study skills solution which (finally) made university possible for me (on try number 4) and which gets me through grad school. Because it completely changed my life when I found it early in 1997 I can't sound "neutral" about it, but it is a system I have used with four year olds and a system which has allowed - just in my personal experiences - hundreds of students to succeed in college and hundreds more in advanced post-secondary career training.

WYNN is not free. There are great deals on school network or multi-user purchases, but the retail price for the scanning version is almost $1,000. I refuse to say this is expensive. $1,000 is very little for, say, one student I worked with who has an "ink-on-paper" reading level of <1.0, but who also now holds a masters degree in history.

WYNN allows you to bring any text into it. You can import digital text or just paste it into a blank document. Or you can scan materials in from your scanner, or "virtually scan" in documents such as old, non-accessible, Acrobat docs. When you scan something in (real scan or virtual) you get a magical choice - you can see "text only" or you can see the page in "exact view" - exactly as it looks, which does great things for textbooks, for books with tables, diagrams, etc.

In either view, WYNN has "two-level highlighting," you see each word highlighted as it is read and you see the sentence, line, or paragraph highlighted as well. In either view you can right click for definitions, word spelling, or to insert notes by typing or speaking. No software anywhere does a better job of reading diagrams than WYNN which makes it a fabulous STEM solution and, in my experience, has made it the perfect solution for vocational training.

You can edit the text within documents (say, if scanning has made an error), but instructors can lock out that feature (or use the specific Test-Talker version). You can also write in WYNN with full word processing features including predictive spelling if you choose. It has bookmarks, highlighting, etc.

WYNN is incredibly flexible. Everything about the text - size, font, color, background colors, space between letters, words, lines, is hugely variable. Speed of speech, pitch, choices of much more sophisticated voices, are all massively variable. You can alter word pronunciation within a document (to, for example, speak names accurately).

WYNN also has a full Internet-Explorer-based web browser which gives you all the same choices.

The one "knock" on WYNN has been that its interface does not "very adult." It is icon-based. (You can choose all kinds of degrees of verbosity - whether instructions and button names, or even typing, is spoken by the software.) But I have found this to be an advantage. WYNN is a lifespan solution, simple enough (especially if you build a simplified "custom" toolbar) for pre-schoolers who don't have reading parents at home, and completely at home in universities, because of all the supports.

The WYNN voice is still - obviously - synthesized, but the sound is much more natural than that in either of the above. It does take some significant "play time" for users to make their choices among all the settings, but one can "set" those, and any computer (or network) can hold onto an almost unlimited group of user settings. I find that I have actually created more than one user profile for myself. I have "easier reading" settings, and "harder reading" settings for those arcane journal articles I read so often. The "harder" settings put fewer words on a line, and read a bit slower.

Of course there are many other choices, from Read-and-Write-Gold to Natural Reader, from the Reading Pen to the free WordTalk and DSpeech, but I hope this suggests a few places to start.

- Ira Socol

16 February 2009

Teachers Against the Future, and their Students

Three comments from teachers on a New York Times article on mobile phones in the classroom.

"Not my classroom, not ever. My kids are on their own in class, not propped up by gadgets. And don't tell me they're a tech-literate generation: they're quite helpless, even at age 20 unable to change a single-spaced document to a double-spaced one, and unwilling to pursue any question or issue beyond the first screen of its Wikipedia entry."

— Real Teacher, Bloomington, IN

"Seriously? Are you kidding me? As a teacher I am engaged in a perpetual battle against this technology as students use it in an increasing variety of non-productive ways. From kids who are simply not paying attention, or who are engaged in personal, (but very public), phone calls in the halls, to kids who text each other or check the web to cheat, this technology only encourages the 'what is the answer' mentality and discourages any real learning."

— Augusta Johnson, Andover, MA

"How about using a brain for a change, instead of cell phone?"

— Taras, Hancock, NY

OK, one by one.

Is this "Real Bad Teacher" in Bloomington, Indiana? His or her students are incapable of research because they have mobile phones or because he/she has not taught them how to do research? His or her students can not change document formatting because of phones or because technology education in his or her school is so poor? And, oh my, "My kids are on their own in class, not propped up by gadgets." How positively Socratic. Get those books out of the room - memory only. Get rid of that chalkboard - that technological devil of the 1840s. Pens? Pencils? Paper? Just ridiculous gadgets which make communication easier. Maybe we should get rid of the alphabet as well. Just one more silly invention to simplify and improve human communication and data handling. "Technology is everything invented after I was born"? This teacher truly believes that. I'm glad these students are being firmly prepared for the world of 1970.

Ms. Johnson in Andover: You are in a "perpetual battle" against this technology and your own students. How's that working out? When I present I often hold up the back of my right hand, where the "lead" of a pencil still resides from a stabbing with a pencil by a friend at age nine. It is funny, the teacher's response that day was not to remove all pencils from the room. I also watched many students pass notes in class and doodle, but I've never seen a teacher respond by removing paper from the room. When I was thirteen a classmate threw books at me. The teacher let books remain in the room. I've even seen students cheat with pens, with paper, with notes written on their clothing - yet all those technologies probably remain even in your classroom. See, Ms. Johnson, you either teach and demonstrate the best uses of the technology of your time or you find another job.

And Taras, we are humans, we are tool users. It is tool use, and the progression of tool capability, which has allowed human progress. I can imagine "Taras" sitting around at the birth of the stone age, "How about using your hands for a change, instead of that stone hammer."

I am so tired of teachers who refuse to look at the world around them, who refuse to adapt to a changing society, who refuse to respond to their students' needs and their students' interests...

Ah well, The Times won't post my comment - I'm never sure why they choose to restrict debate, but they do - so I'm posting it here...

Ira Socol, Michigan State University: Of course these devices, the most powerful information and communication tools on the planet, belong in classrooms. Some of us have been arguing this for a long time, based on the dramatic successes we've seen in other nations (where "smarter" phones have long been the norm).

Don't Hang Up on Your Students' Futures
Liz Kolb's Cellphones in Learning
Handheld Learning

Imagine - every student holds, in the palm of his or her hand, the world's greatest library, and the ability to ask any question, and to collaborate globally. Plus, an efficient text-entry system, a reading platform, a calculator, and even strong supports re: "Learning Disabilities." Oh, sorry, we've banned these devices from our buildings...

- Ira Socol

14 February 2009

The Keyboard, The Toolbelt, The Future

Keyboarding. Should it be taught in schools? From what age? How?

This is a common debate, and one which recently exploded on a favourite list-serve. It has actually been quite a week for list-serve debates: Keyboarding among British technology and education researchers, and literacy software on two different US government-sponsored list-serves (that's another post, at least equally important, coming soon).

These kind of debates, I have found, are often not really about "education," and - if we were really to look below the surface - the stories of student success or failure which around which the posts are typically built - we would find that they are not really about "the students" either. What they are really about is a struggle over a philosophical vision of the world, and the future.

Is the world essentially "right" right now? The design correct but the implementation flawed? If you believe that then you are out seeking "best practices," the silver bullet solution to the problem. You want technology in service of doing things "the old way, but better."

In this case, you are trying to determine the optimum moment to begin instruction in the QWERTY keyboard, or debating whether it is important for students to learn that keyboard without looking at it or with, or figuring out which is the best typing trainer software. You know, as many commenters on that list said, that 'the QWERTY keyboard isn't going away anytime soon.' That 'all other systems are less efficient.' That 'failing to teach the QWERTY keyboard will leave students helpless.'

But if you believe that the world really isn't perfected in design yet, you might wonder why anyone is still committed to a bizarre text-input system designed to slow 'typists' on first generation manual typewriters, so that mechanical keys would not jam. More than that, you might say, "is this really the best way to record text?" Or, if you're a crazy post-modernist like myself, you might even ask, "should we ever really try to determine a best way to record text? Because, you know, we're dealing with humans here, and human capabilities and preferences tend to vary widely."

In which case you might be interested in figuring out how students might find what their own preferences are.

With that, I wanted to share a couple of parts of the conversation: Not from those arguing 'the other side' - that's violating list-serve confidences, but from Graham Brown-Martin of Handheld Learning and myself.

- Ira Socol

Ira Socol: Sorry, but I really cannot see that the value of [teaching] 'touch typing' is worth the effort.

Touch typing was developed as a secretarial skill, the purpose being the copying of words from handwritten documents or forms, or from shorthand. This the need to `not look' at the keyboard.

We really shouldn't be in the business of training our students for this mid 20th century business task.

This differs from the need to help students develop a suite of effective text entry skills, from speech recognition dictation to mobile keyboarding to choosing the best computer keyboard or keypad, whether qwerty, dvorak, ABC, or phone style, etc.

In fact, in today's world of varied keyboards, differing even nation to nation, teaching touch typing may actually be destructive. Just watch touch typist Americans struggling with a British keyboard, much less a French one.

Just what I observe, of course.

Ira Socol: [responding to the assertion that students must learn QWERTY to wite their exams] This is always the problem in education - we create testing which insists on a skill set - which makes that skill set then essential. And we them mistake this for some sort of "natural order."

So yes, students who learn to type on QWERTY keyboards do better typing on QWERTY keyboards, just as students who learned Spencerian Script did better writing in Spencerian Script and students who do better reading ink-on-paper do better reading ink-on-paper.

You can bemoan the inequality of some having computers at home and others not. But do households have more computers or more mobiles? And if there are more mobiles, then might we not eliminate the inequalities you describe by insisting on that as the school text-entry method (simply set up Dkey or Tapir free on your computers)?

In other words, if we can not offer choice, should we not shift to the most ubiquitous text-entry system, which today, from teen texters to the US president, is a mobile keypad?

It is not that I am insensitive to your position as a teacher trapped within an antiquated system of technologies. I am. But as researchers I believe we have an obligation to pursue truly meaningful change, and not be content with minor fixes which simply improve student compliance.

Ira Socol: I want to urge people not to get caught in a false "either/or" debate regarding keyboarding.

It is not a question - at this point in technological history - of "touch typing" vs. "no ability to quickly capture thoughts or communicate." Rather, the question is, "how do we best prepare students, based on their individual abilities and preferences, to bring their thoughts to recorded forms that others can access."

After all, in the course of any given work day I will (a) keyboard on the straight keyboard of my laptop, (b) keyboard on the ergonomic keyboard of my desktop, (c) keyboard on the '2-letters-to-a-key" keyboard of my Blackberry, (d) dictate via Vista's speech recognition, (e) dictate into my phone via Vlingo and Dial2Do - sometimes directly - other times through the Sync system in my car.

For the best jobs of today - and probably all the jobs of tomorrow - this diversity of text-entry is the norm. None of these systems were designed - or are marketed - as SEN solutions - every one was developed as a business solution.

In addition, I can keyboard on a traditional QWERTY keyboard, or on an ABC keyboard or on a Dvorak Keyboard, or even on a Cre8txt keypad - - or, for that matter, on an on-screen keyboard (such as the free Click-n-Type, or keypad styles such as Dkey and Tapir) or a fully custom designed keyboard ("blank" programmable keyboards are available).

As in everything else in education it becomes far too easy to seek a 'single solution' that we will 'apply' to all students - the industrial model of schooling we have lived with since Disraeli lived at 10 Downing Street. And in that mode of thinking, failure to "process" a child properly (teaching them touch-typing on a standard QWERTY keyboard, in this case) means that we have failed to properly transform that child and prepare them for the next processing step (be it creative writing lessons or taking the next test on the computer).

But if we are to prepare our students for the world they will live in (not the world we and our friends grew up in), we must teach them to be flexible and to find their own personal solutions that will carry them through their own lives.

Graham Brown-Martin: "Disabling the young and old" to "giving people an inequitable start in life" by not giving adequate training in the use of the QWERTY keyboard. I've read the variety of posts in this thread about the merits of teaching touch typing with a growing sense of incredulity by the many users of a research list who are still prepared to believe that we will still be interacting with computers in a 2D space with a mouse and keyboard in the next 5-10 years.

Or will this just be for the poor people whom have been designated underpowered, under-spec'd netbooks that run a flat version of the internet whilst everybody else is running the 3D thinking, speaking, listening, multi-touch and gesture recognising version?

How's that for inequity?

Well, let's bring back shorthand and dust off the Remington's shall we?

While we're about it let's teach them Cobol, Pascal, punched cards, Desktop GUI's, command line computer interfaces and "Office" software you know, like "Word" and "Powerpoint"

Let's forget about the 21st Century world in which these people are actually living in and will need to compete.

Perhaps another way of looking at this is how we're disabling teachers by not bringing them up to speed on getting in touch with how young learners actually use the technology that is embedded in their everyday lives. Perhaps teachers should be learning about building levels in Little Big Planet to teach maths and physics, guiding an evolution sim on Spore to teach evolutionary biology, editing, encoding and uploading a video to YouTube for creative media studies, creating their Facebook page and actioning their privacy settings correctly to teach citizenship.

The first "keyboard (s)" that a child uses will be a TV remote, a phone or a game console pad - the latter with incredible speed and dexterity. Many teenagers are able to send SMS messages in the dark or whilst watching TV / holding a conversation - how's that for touch-typing?

The days of the keyboard and mouse are thankfully drawing to an end, even Microsoft with their Windows 7 are recognising this. Hopefully the traditional PC/laptop will head the same way as the Remingtons and for the young learners of today will seem as quaint as a picture of a typewriter on a desk might look to us.

I won't miss them. I type at around 50 WPM and I could never type as fast as I think or speak regardless of how much training I might get. It's a low bandwidth input technology, a legacy from the typesetter, with too many possibilities for error.

Good riddance!

Graham (sent via iPhone)