21 March 2009

CSUN 2009 - FreeTech - Ubiquitous, Universal Toolbelts

(As the CSUN 2009 - Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference goes on I will post my three presentations and add short posts about what I see and hear. You may want to also follow the CSUN Twitter feed at #csun09)

Schools often complain about the costs of high-tech accommodations, but many of the best solutions are free, if schools would just allow them.

Mobile phones can offer speech recognition, or can convert the speech of others into text. Free text-to-speech systems can provide digitized reading support on any computer. Google calendar and organization tools can solve many student issues. MP3 players already in student pockets can offer effective instructional backup. Auto-Correct in Microsoft Word can solve many student keyboarding issues. The best spell checking systems are free online. Free add-ons to Firefox can provide right-click definitions and translations. There is no better predictive spelling system than the iTap (and similar) software on mobile phones.

But in classrooms across the US, and in many other nations, these tools are either not available or are actually banned – making many schools, in the words of Alan November, “reality free zones,” where the students who need them most are denied the ubiquitous tools of contemporary society.

This situation hurts everyone. Schools pay for systems and software that either they or the students themselves already own or could download at no cost. Students go with supports that are available to anyone outside of school. And students miss the chance to learn either about the learning tools which will support them throughout their lifespans, or the best ways to choose those tools.

These free and ubiquitous technologies work in every educational environment, from pre-school to universities, and in almost every kind of employment situation.

Best Practices with these technologies take them from distraction to support:
Mobile phones
improve student reading, writing, and academic engagement.

Twitter-like systems bring the classroom “back-channel” forward

Best group of free text-to-speech systems. (and when to “trade up” to full-featured purchasable systems)
Student-centered input systems

Supportive features in the software you already have (Mac O/S, Windows, Microsoft Word)

Ghotit’s spell-check system
– online or within Microsoft Word - to build writing confidence

Google Apps, Google Accounts in your school.

Google Calendar and your students’ organization.

Firefox, Google, and CLiCk-Speak supporting student reading and writing in school and at home.

Online text-to-speech sites.
Available free USB-“key” technology.
What is “next” in ubiquitous technology?
ow to argue for technology effectively within your control-obsessed school.

These technologies link to “Toolbelt Theory,” the art of teaching all students to develop their own systems of supportive tools. Creating a learning environment which supports, within classroom parameters, student experimentation and student use of multiple tools, for differing tasks and environments. And which teaches the ability to respond to changing skill levels and rapidly changing environments and technologies in ways which create lifespan tool learners and tool users.

- Ira Socol in Los Angeles

1 comment:

PDonaghy said...

Hi Ira
A great collection of resources and ideas. Even some new ones that I had not come across.

All these free useful tools should be readily available in classrooms everywhere. It is a great pity that they are not!!