Sunday, June 25, 2006

AdvantEdge Reader and Scanner: Text to Speech in a Portable Format

AdvantEdge Reader is an assistive technology system that allows print from documents, books, and magazines to be accessed using text to speech. The system was developed by The Assistive Technology Center in Sacramento, California. The developer is Robert Leblond who has had the mission for the past two decades to develop computer technology to benefit individuals who are blind or have reading disabilities such as dyslexia. He has developed an integrated and portable scanner and text reader.

AdvantEdge Reader” combines adaptive technologies to create the pocket scanner and reader. This system could prove to be the next step for independence for student to achieve more independence and mobility. Instead of having to go to the computer lab or resource room to use table top scanners and desktop computers that currently have OCR and text-to-speech software programs, the student can stay in the classroom and scan and read materials as needed.

Leblond was a pioneer in the field of Braille transcription using scanners and faxes in the 1980’s. The AdvantEdge system combines current reading technology for easier, more portable use. The operation is fast and simple and involves inserting the material to be read into a portable scanner. The sheet is recognized and converted to text with OCR application and a text reader application automatically reads the material using current high quality speech with AT&T Natural Voices™ .

The AdvantEdge system used and modified the existing Visioneer strobe scanner, which is a tiny, portable scanner. The modified strobe scanner was installed onto a hand held computer called SmallTalk and a recognition program and hardware driver were added to complete the package. The screen reading software used “Window Eyes”, by GW Micro. Leblond’s philosophy for the creation of the system was to take existing technology and combine and tweak to improve it. This has been a successful approach as opposed to competitors who are attempting to design systems from the ground up.

Along with being the first portable scan and read system, the AdvantEdge Reader is also a full Windows XP computer. It has a docking cable that gives it desktop computer capabilities. The docking cable connects to an external monitor, printer, network, keyboard, firewire devices, and other external features. The Reader also includes Bluetooth and Wireless LAN technology.

Product Specifications of the AdvantEdge system include:

  • SmallTalk dimensions--The Small-Talk Ultra is 4.9 inches long, 3.4 inches wide, and 0.9 inches thin, and weighs a mere 14 ounces.
  • Strobe Scanner--The Strobe Scanner is 1.5 by 2 by 11 inches and weighs 11 ounces.

The impact of this technology for students with vision and reading disabilities is major. The current cost of $3000 for one system is high and beyond the reach for many individuals and school districts, however the price will come down along with new development of systems that are smaller, faster and easier to use.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

A New Way to Look at Ourselves

There are so many students who are bright who are failing in our school system. Is it drugs? is it attitude…poor parenting? Or, could it be the education system? I refer to the students that are not doing well in school as the canaries. They are telling us that the air is bad in the mine shaft!

I read a blog by Mark Wagner who is doing his dissertation in ed tech and referred to Marc Prensky, author of Digital Game-Based Learning. In his article Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants: A New Way to Look at Ourselves and Our Kids - Part I. Prensky labels students today as the Digital Natives and teachers who were not raised on computers as the Digital Immigrants.
He writes, “It is amazing to me how in all the hoopla and debate these days about the decline of education in the US we ignore the most fundamental of its cause. Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach.”

I see myself in Prensky's description of the immigrant. I am the computer user who has to print a hardcopy of a document in order to edit it… and I often print an important email to store in my paper file. He would refer to me as someone who has a heavy “accent”. He sees the main problem with education today as schools populated with immigrant teachers “struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language.” He calls this the native/immigrant divide. “Smart adult immigrants accept that they don’t know about their new world and take advantage of their kids to help them learn and integrate. Not-so-smart (or not-so-flexible) immigrants spend most of their time grousing about how good things were in the old country”.

Prensky believes educators need to reconsider both methodology and content because brain-based research shows that children attend to activities including television in bursts rather than extended segments. He cites research done by Sesame Street which involved kids watching tv. Two groups were compared - kids with toys in the room and kids without toys to distract. The kids with toys watched 47% of the time whereas the sans toys group watched 87% of the time. When both sets of kids were tested on content from the show (what they remembered and understood) both groups scored the same.

In Digital Natives Digital Immigrants- Part II. Do They Really Think Differently? Neuroscience Says Yes. Prensky presents new findings in neurobiology and social science that throws what we learned in child development classes to the wind. Brain research is showing that certain types of external stimuli can change the structure of the brain which affects how people think--- and this continues into adulthood. It gets very technical with explanations of neuroplasticity and malleability, but the upshot is that children’s brains are developing physiologically in a different way. To highlight, here is a listing using the terms in his article:

10 Differences between the Thinking Style
of the Digital Native and the Digital Immigrant

twitch speed ---------- conventional speed
multi-tasking --------- single focus
random access ---------- step-by-step
parallel processing ---------- linear processing
quick-payoff ---------- goal oriented
viewing graphic first ---------- reading text first
active/interactive ---------- passive/receiver
play and fantasy ---------- reality and work
techno-savvy ---------- techno-fear
We do complain and see problems with students on how they read and think. Prensky addresses this concern regarding reflection. In the fast paced, nonlinear, random access delivery of information that they are exposed to there is very little chance for reflection. This is the area that educators have to focus on. Education theory maintains that reflection allows for generalization and generalization allows for creating a model that can be called on for problem solving and continued learning.

Prensky suggests we have to find ways to design education in a game format that works. It is not enough to present the old drill and practice with graphics and sounds. He gives an example of a success as Fast ForWard by Scientific Learning which is a computer game program for remediation of students with reading problems. The field studies for the game showed in 35 sites throughout the US that the delivery was successful with 90% of the students making significant gains in reading. With reading, you have to practice. And students that cannot read hate to practice! The key is to engage them in an activity that they enjoy - “they must be practicing the right things, so design is important.”

To end my review of Prensky, here is a quote he inserted in his writing

“The cookies on my daughter's computer know more about her interests than her teachers do.”
-Henry Kelly, president of the Federation of American Scientists.

I’m glad that I know what a cookie is!

Prensky rules! I have so many questions regarding the complaints I hear of students use of technology and computer programs in school. Recently, I was told that Wikipedia is not a good resource because of the controversy regarding “everyone’s an editor”. This also ties into the concern of students with text messaging and photo capabilities on their cell phones. Prensky does not react with indignation or resignation - instead he addresses the concern head on with the statement that we cannot stop the influx and should welcome it. We should put our energy into teaching students the appropriate use of this technology. For example, instead of banning cell phones, it is our challenge to teach students the ethics surrounding cheating and privacy. In regards to Wikipedia, we need to teach students the difference between search and research. He implores teachers and parents not to ban the new technologies but to take our job seriously in showing them the “power and the limitations” of these new tools. How do we do that? We have to start using the new tools so that we understand them.

Project Based Learning Powerpoint

What an amazing time it is to be a teacher. We are in an era of transition from the old method of delivering education for the generation of the industrial era to the new global, tech-savvy generation.

“ The biggest obstacle to school change is our memories” -Dr. Allen Glenn

What I got from Dr. Allen Glenn’s quote on the Project Based Learning PowerPoint is that we continue to do the business of education using content and methodology that does not work for today's students. I am reminded of a discussion that I had years ago in a college class regarding how action in the present rarely keeps up with technological advances. A great example is the years it took to come up with the attached garage. For years the family car was stored in the carriage house next to the horses. It was not until the 50’s when people got sick of walking down to the outbuilding (and having the car smell like horses!) that the attached garage came into use. The class where this discussion took place was studying Marshall McLuhan's The Medium is the Massage. He was considered the futurist and guru commenter on electronic media at the time. The upshot is that it takes many years for people to let go of the traditional to embrace the experimental and move on.

When I did a Google search to reacquaint myself with McLuhan I located information in a 1995 hypertext essay titled Media Determinism in Cyberspace by Samuel Ebersole

Ebersole writes that McLuhan proposed the advent of the printing press had a negative impact on social history. He maintained it caused alienation because the social norm of story tellers and listening groups moved to reading as a solitary activity. McLuhan did not live to see it, but the Internet, in a strange way has brought literacy back to a group activity.

"I link therefore I am" - From Hypertextual Consciousness - Mark Amerika


Is it real or is it artificial? Do the ends justify the means?

I played a joke on my sister. We both bought hydrangeas (flowers) that can either grow to be blue or pink depending on acidity in the soil. Many people long for the beautiful, blue hydrangeas you see on the east coast and in the south, but Wisconsin does not have the soil to produce them. Nurseries give instructions on how to add ingredients to the soil to change it, but there is the risk of hurting the plant and, even if it works, it is minimal and short-lived because earthworms will churn it back to the natural ph level.

I decided to take my trompe'loie skills along with my artist mentality and grabbed a spray bottle and blue watercolor. When my sister came over I took her out to see my beautiful blue hydrangea. She was oooohing and aaahhing until I came clean with the joke I was playing on her. When she found out how they came to be blue, she turned away from the beautiful flower and declared, “That’s just not right!”

We carry mindsets of what is acceptable and not acceptable – In my mind, with the art mindset of “trick of the eye”, I am quite willing to accept the painted hydrangea and even believe it is a better route than using chemicals to change the dirt. She, on the other hand, believes that alteration one step removed from the actual plant is alright but altering the actual plant is unacceptable.

What does this have to do with technology in education?

The system of education in the U.S. is a behemoth of brick and mortar in need of a major demolition crew to make way for the new. Accepting what technology has to offer the new design will involve a great deal of review and revision of established mindsets.

Great Lesson Plans using Technology

Kathy Schrock ‘s Guide for Educators website Best Practices of Technology Integration offers lessons created by Michigan teachers that demonstrate how technology can be used as a valuable tool in the classroom.

Future Career Visions

Description: This is a great lesson plan to use for any class that wants to integrate technology/careers into their curriculum. Intended Grade Level(s): 9-12 (could be revised for Elementary and Jr. High) explore Careers and a way for students to present their findings to others. This lesson will require the students to integrate technology into the curriculum. They will research the latest career information on the Internet. Not only will the students do an in depth personal exploration, they will also have the opportunity to work with one of their peers in a problem situation. They will have fun creating a Career Flyer or Brochure and a PowerPoint® Presentation on the career areas. This lesson will also help the student with public speaking as they present their career presentation for an audience.

I located the final two lesson plans doing a Google search "lesson plans using technology" which directed me to Microsoft Education.

Diseases of the Human Body

Description: Students choose a disease to research from a list provided. They research the disease using the Internet, encyclopedias, and materials from the library. They then create a presentation in Microsoft® PowerPoint®, a brochure, and a Web page to help present their disease to the rest of the class.The third lesson plan

Creating Multimedia Time Lines

Description: Use a timeline to track the discoveries that led up to the Human Genome Project. Time lines enable students to quickly grasp the relationship of events. With today's technology, you can trace, track, and chart events by including photographs, illustrations, and even music in a compelling multimedia format. When students select, analyze, and organize timeline information, they have an opportunity to construct a clear and lasting understanding from the curriculum.

Required Software & Tutorials : Microsoft Internet Explorer, Microsoft Word 2002 or later, Microsoft Visio 2003
Create a Timeline in Microsoft Visio
Create a Timeline in Microsoft Word

Vision of Public Education in the Year 2025

The vision of public education in the future must be realized through proactive design so it is not determined by a chaotic reaction to its ultimate downfall. Due to the fast pace of technological development and the need for schools to catch up, the education funding and delivery of public education needs a complete overhaul to allow innovation and technology to become entrenched and allow for a system that can prepare children for the challenges of the 21st century. The vision is for schools in the year 2025 to be learning environments where children can develop to their personal best. These schools are possible and will be created through a complete overhaul of public education funding and delivery in partnership with the utilization of technology.

The time has come to stop using ongoing research and pedagogical debate as an excuse for inaction. Instead, the public education system must look at business, government and universities as examples of systems that are moving forward to compete and flourish in the Age of Technology. In order to move ahead quickly and establish flourishing schools by the year 2025, the public school system needs to be funded by sources directed by the federal government and corporations. Leaving the development to the states and local districts will not allow for the expeditious change that is critical. Education leaders and researchers can also determine best practices in education and weed out methods and delivery systems that are ineffective and inefficient by utilizing computer data processing capabilities that exist today. The vision for schools in the year 2025 has to be motivated by research that shows up to 20 % of students are not responding to the back-to-basics and high-stakes testing mandated by “No Child Left Behind”. With federal legislation and support by private philanthropic organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation the United States can build strong school systems to ensure its citizens will become interactive and productive citizens.

The schools of 2025 will embrace the constructivist theory of education and will provide environments that address the social and emotional development of children along with the academic. Students will progress through the schools on a developmental basis rather than on same-age groupings. Level 1 though 9 students will focus on basic academics and be engaged in learning environments that encourage the development of a passion for learning rather than the acquisition of predetermined content. Levels 10 through 12 will be the transition stage for students to have opportunities for career investigation and community involvement. Small local schools will be set up to provide community building and promotion of health and fitness along with basic academic instruction. Each school will be furnished with the technology necessary to compete nationally and internationally.

The model based on the “Tribes” format will be used in schools to build caring relationships. The “Tribes” model promotes active group and cooperative learning with a focus on positive social interaction. The success with students is based on teachers establishing close relationship with students and their parents with a common goal of success in school and post-high transition. All students will receive special status with an advisor who is assigned a manageable case load of no more than 20 students. The advisor will stay with the student through each school stage. The advisor does not just deal with the academic needs of the student but also arranges to deal with social, emotional, health and family issues. This creates a powerful triumvirate with a connection between the school, the student and the parents. Parents will not only be encouraged but expected to attend school via Internet connections throughout the school year. The school of 2025 will have the capacity for parents to log in and monitor classroom happenings. Web cam and microphone capabilities in the classroom will allow parents to observe and interact with the students and teachers in real time. Homework helpers will be available with student tutors and staff that are available after school hours in open labs, or via the Internet and email. The support for school assignments and projects will be available to students any time and anywhere.

Schools of the future will offer programs investigating personal health and fitness and team sports. Interactive gaming that has been found to be very motivational for students for physical activity such as “Dance, Dance Revolution” will be available. Students will no longer be forced into rigid class structures for physical health. The student, parents and advisor will meet regularly to review the student’s health and fitness program. A student who is showing success with karate only will be allowed to continue with that program if that is what motivates the student to be active.

At Levels l0 through 12 , students will be more mobile with mentoring and volunteer opportunities in the community at regional facilities created by a consortium of school districts for Workforce Development and Training, Performance Art, Multimedia Centers, and Sports Facilities. Students will attend these academies based on personal interest and aptitude. Students at this stage will also act as tutors to motivate younger students by seeing older students enthused about learning. Student Exchange programs will be developed to address the “Digital Divide” where student may not have access to the same technology experiences. The exchanges can be national (with urban and rural exchanges) or international.

In the schools of 2025, academic instruction will be based on the Constructivist model where the student is involved in active interaction of knowledge. Teacher roles will be as collaborators, guides and facilitators who are co-teaching or running thematic units with other teachers. All students will be provided with personal computers for school and home use. The computers will be handhelds with the ability to project images on any surface. The personal handhelds will also have webcam and microphone connections, photo and movie making, and voice recording capabilities. Technology will be utilized based on success seen in private industry, the military, and university applications and will include computer instruction, simulation, and game-based instruction. Academic courses will be delivered with a combination of Intelligent Tutoring System (ITS), multimedia, distance and online learning, simulation and game-based interactive theaters. ITS allows computer delivered instruction that analyzes student learning style, provides instruction, monitors progress, and modifies instruction to meet the need of the individual student. When the student has mastered a particular lesson the computer determines when to move to the next level of instruction. Distance and online learning will be offered to students to take courses not taught in-house from other campuses. Schools will subscribe to a distance learning and on-line library that is set up to provide enrollment and connection for courses taught by different schools. Reciprocity agreements will be set up to provide students with a wide range of class offerings. “Real Time” and “On Demand” options will be available to make use of the anywhere and anytime possibilities of eLearning. Textbooks will not be used and most assignments will be submitted by computer rather than hard copy. Simulations will be used to train students for skills that are not discovery based. The simulations will be used to evaluate strengths and allow for investigation and training for careers such as pilots, doctors, engineering construction and other areas that involve skills that cannot afford trial and error.

In the web based article “Thinking About the Future: Leaders of technology education tell us what they see ahead” Frank B. Withrow compares advances of the digital technology to the printing press and speaks to the hope that computers will change education. “Learning in traditional schools has been effective for the top 15 percent of students, but far too many schools have wasted the potential of many learners... With technology we can provide individual learning plans and programs for every student.” The students today are the canaries in the mine shaft signaling that the system is not relevant or functional for most of them. With changes in how schools are funded we can begin to develop learning environments based on Constructivist model and utilize the rich technological advances. If the transformation begins now the future looks bright. The schools in the year 2025 will finally be a true, democratic representation of successful public education for all students.


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Favorite Websites

My favorite education website is LD Online at - a great resource for learning disabilities. I send my students there to get inspiration from individuals who have succeeded in spite of a learning disabilty: examples are Stephen Cannell(Hollywood screenwriter) and Charles Schwaub (investment mogul), the list goes on and can be checked out at the link at the bottom of this blog.

My personal favorite to see what people are doing on the web is Favorite Website Awards at . I like that you can search by categories, such as education, art...

Other than the websites I have listed, I am constantly doing searches on Google for information related to teaching and my interests in gardening and sculpture.