19 May 2010

Ten Free UDL Tools you may not be using as much as you should

Universal Design for Learning, and Universal Design Technology, are the keys to increasing both access to learning and increasing engagement among the widest range of students. Many of the tools which allow students to shift media to meet their learning and interest needs are free, assuming you have computers available to your students, and reasonable web connections.

But as my friend Karen Janowski asked this morning on Twitter - "Can someone help me understand why educators aren't using UDL principles to help all student succeed, esp. Kids on IEPs?"

Why indeed? 

One place to go for help is Karen's UDL Toolkit Wiki, or you could 'flip' through this blog or others, but to speed up the process... a list of ten...

ONE: Firefox. If Firefox is not your school's default web browser, there's a problem. I know, yes Chrome can be sometimes faster, but it lacks Firefox's diverse tools. Yes, I know Internet Explorer or Safari came installed on your computers, but let's not begin by pleading laziness... it doesn't look good in front of the kids.

Firefox is accessible, through its add-ons, for just about everyone, and in free, easy, common practice ways which allow all kids to participate equally. For details on access add-ons you can go to Access Firefox, or just download the (right now PC/Linux-only) Firefox build we created in Michigan which installs with accessibility add-ons installed along with important bookmarks (a Mac version will be out soon).

TWO: Google Accounts. Google will give your school individualized Google Accounts en masse for free (and eliminate advertising from email) so I'm not sure why an educational institution still wastes its own money on email systems, but Google Accounts offers so much to support so many kids. From the collaboration capabilities of Google Docs (and no more lost/misplaced assignments), to the share-with-the-world possibilities of Blogger, to the ability to organize your classes with Google Sites, and the amazing ability to link and remind students via Google Calendar, plus the complete multimedia, any capability strength of G-mail with chat and Video Chat. No school should be without this.

THREE: WordTalk. The brilliant Microsoft Word template attachment WordTalk turns Word into a fully speaking word processor that enables the learning disabled to really work with both the acquisition and creation of text. It even creates mp3s to send home.

FOUR: AccessApps. AccessApps, LearnApps, TeachApps are USB-flashdrive based accessibility suites for Windows available from the Regional Support Centre/Scotland North and East. AccessApps is a perfect suite for low-vision and dexterity limitations. LearnApps for dyslexia and other learning differences. TeachApps will give you all those tools plus systems for creating accessible documents.

FIVE: Speech Recognition in Windows 7. Or in Windows Vista. Speech Recognition is an incredibly powerful tool for those who just don't interact well with paper or keyboards. Say it, and the computer writes it down. Say it, and the computer does it. And now the very best of these systems is free within your operating system. Windows 7 and Windows Vista both come with this brilliant software included.

SIX: Ghotit. The spellcheck for the rest of us. Ghotit, which works as a website, and as an add-in for Microsoft Word, is spell and grammar checking specifically for English Language Learners, dyslexics, and all those who just "can't come close enough" for traditional spellcheck to work.

SEVEN: Diigo (or Delicious, or Evernote). Your students need to learn social bookmarking. They need to learn to remember the discoveries they make. Diigo, Delicious, Evernote all make this easy, no matter how your students interacts with books, writing tools, or computers.

EIGHT: GraphCalc. GraphCalc installs a full-featured scientific, 3D-graphing, calculator onto your computers for free. And kids who struggle with writing math symbols or drawing graphs can simply copy the calculator's window into their word processing documents.

NINE: TodaysMeet. If Twitter is "a bridge too far" for your school, or you'd prefer more privacy, control, and transcript acquisition, and less sign up hassles, TodaysMeet is the way to bring 140-character backchannel communication into your classroom. You'll find the some kids who never talk have quite a lot to say.

TEN: Click-N-Type. The world's best on-screen keyboard, Click-N-Type is a life changer for switch users or those with very limited dexterity. When combined with a custom short-cut system using Microsoft Word's AutoCorrect feature (typing "mcoe" writes "Michigan State University College of Education" on my computers), and with the voice outputs possible in Click-N-Type or with WordTalk (above), you will be giving the gift of communication.

Yes, this is just ten, and there are so many more, but so many schools lack even these basics, and so many classroom teachers remain unaware of the possibilities. So, please, let's begin somewhere.

- Ira Socol


Unknown said...

I love Alex, the built-in system voice for Mac OS X Leopard+. To enable text to speech: System Preferences > Speech > Text to Speech tab.

irasocol said...

Yes Cynthia, everyone with Macs needs to make sure speech is enabled on their machines. It is really simple, but many schools lock it down, making it unusable.

And, in a Tweet to me from Nuance they point out their new, free PDF Reader http://www.nuance.com/imaging/products/pdf-reader.asp which includes PDF to Word conversion. It is also "Windows Only."

- Ira Socol

Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking a large amount of information and creating a Top 10. I am currently a pre-service teacher through the University of Regina working on a project about tools and devices in technology that were created with one purpose but can be adapted to help students with a wide range of needs. Everything on this list can be easily integrated into the classroom! This is a great start for my project, so thanks again.