Letting go of Kurzweil and Dragon Naturally Speaking and embracing web-based Read&Write…it can be done, but not without a few (minor) hiccups, as is usually the case when implementing any new technology on a large scale.
My Board purchased TextHelp‘s Read&Write Chrome extension (Premium) as a comprehensive assistive technology solution for our students this year. Since we are a Google Apps for Education school board, and the fact that R&W is a fraction of the cost of Kurzweil and Dragon (and less intrusive), it just made sense. Our Google Admin pushed out the extension to all Google users in our board, and the ed tech team then needed to show these users where to find the Read&Write extension, how to allow and authenticate the extension, and provide some training as to how it works.
Part of my job was to devise a roll-out plan for training and implementation, and perhaps more importantly, a philosophy behind this new assistive technology so that our message is consistent and clear. I was chatting with my friend DJ Cunningham of LearnStyle about said philosophy one day, and he basically handed it to me on a platter:
When Read & Write is introduced, it should be promoted as a MAINSTREAM tool, and not as a SPEC ED tool. We want ALL students to use this, as it is helpful for everyone. We do not want to alienate our students in Spec Ed. – DJ Cunningham, LearnStyle
Since R&W is basically a toolbar that appears on webpages, in Google Docs and when working with PDF and ePub files (whenever you activate it by clicking on the purple puzzle piece), it is far less conspicuous than the telltale headsets and laptops designated for one particular group of students. R&W works on any device, and is far more user-friendly than Kurzweil and most certainly Dragon (voice profiles, anyone?).
The tools in each of the 3 toolbars (Docs, webpage and PDF) are useful to ALL students (and teachers!). It also promotes the important idea of taking ownership of HOW each person learns, remembers material, studies, researches and takes notes. When using the various tools, users can determine whether or not the tool is useful to them, depending on how they learn. They can pick and choose the tools they wish to use at their leisure, depending on the actual activity and if/when they need it. Of course, this time for classroom practice needs to be fostered by classroom teachers, following proper training facilitated by an educational technology team.
Our Implementation Strategy:
- Work in conjunction with representatives from IT and special education departments to develop training materials for Read&Write, including troubleshooting potential (and actual) issues and creating a Google Slides presentation that can be shared for initial training and future reference
- Train our Ed Tech Champions using the Google Slides presentation via Google Hangouts (I conducted 3 separate half-day sessions, working with champs from the Central, North and South regions)
- The Ed Tech Champions then facilitated in-class training sessions for Grades 3 and up in their respective schools (I stressed the importance of the sessions being mainly about accessing Read&Write for the first time by ensuring proper Chrome session sign ins, hands-on practice and including as many EA’s in the training as possible)
A Few Hiccups:
- Our school board works with Windows laptops, Chromebooks as well as some iPads. Many school boards use a variety of devices, which I think is great! But, we did run into some issues when working with Windows laptops and the fact that teachers/students were not seeing the “purple puzzle piece” in order to start the initial authentication process. Ensuring teachers and students were actually signing into their Chrome browsers, and not just their school Google accounts, needed to be addressed.
- Another hiccup when using our Windows laptops: some users could not click on the “Allow” and/or “Accept” buttons to authenticate Read&Write. So, they could see the puzzle piece and click on it, but then the permissions would run too far down the page and they could not actually click to Allow the application! Fortunately, we came across this article from TextHelp to troubleshoot: http://support.texthelp.com/index.php?action=artikel&cat=5&id=244&artlang=en
- Accessing Read&Write on an iPad is very different from accessing it on a Chromebook or Windows laptop. It is essentially a keyboard that you have to add under your General Settings, and the functions are certainly more limited. I would suggest simply turning on your Accessibility features under Speech (Speak Screen is great for use with webpages) and use Siri for STT and TTS (if you have iPad 3 or later).
- Read&Write sometimes has trouble extracting text from within images when certain materials are scanned and OCR’d (so, mostly PDF files and some webpage content). Now, Kurzweil had difficulty with this too. HOWEVER, there is now a new Screenshot Reader tool in the Read&Write toolbar!
This tool is its own extension, so you have to install it independently from Read&Write. It is essentially a screenshot tool, and when you click on it, your cursor turns into a screenshot capture tool (like a plus sign) where you drag your cursor around the text you want it to capture, let go, and then it reads the content out loud! This is a great solution for image-heavy content. This tool also works with Google Slides and Google Drawings! I’ve tested it out with different types of graphs, as an example, and it reads the content quite well.
I want to share with you a Google Slides presentation we are using for training and reference. I modified, added to and updated it from presentations by Randy Kirsh and Tammy Tkachuk, and they are both credited within the presentation. If you are a GAFE school board and looking into alternative assistive tech solutions, this could help. Feel free to contact me as well if you have any questions.