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Talking in Exams Project

By Paul Nisbet on Friday 17th April, 2015 at 1:11pm

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Speech recognition has been around for many years, and many people have tried it without much success. It could be made to work, but often involved a lot of training, time and effort. Today though, computers are much more powerful, speech recognition software is much more accurate and reliable, and we believe it is now a viable option for many more learners.

There has been a lot of interest in speech recognition recently in Scotland, partly because the technology is now more common and better, and partly because of the introduction of the National Literacy assessment, where scribes cannot be used for assessment of writing, but technology, including speech recognition, can.

On 15th January 2015 we held a seminar, supported by SQA, where we discussed the use of speech recognition software in assessments and examinations. You can view a recording of the seminar on CALL's web site: scroll down to 'Speech Recognition in Practice'.

We heard very positive reports about speech recognition from practitioners in East Lothian, Scottish Borders and Stirling, and the participants on the day were keen to continue the conversation and try out speech recognition. So, we thought - how can CALL help?

The Talking in Exams Project is our response, and this is the plan:

Create guidance materials for getting started with speech recognition.

We are creating web pages on the CALL site, with general information covering the SR software and links to tutorials, videos and research. The web pages initially cover Dragon Naturally Speaking, Windows Speech Recognition, WordQ+SpeakQ and Siri on the iPad, but later we will add more for MacOS Dictation, Android and Google Chrome tools. 

Build a community of practice where we can share what works and what doesn’t.

We will organise some more free sessions where we can get together and share experiences. We will set up online collaboration via CALL's web site, and/or via a Glow blog / wiki / Learning Space for project partners to talk and share. We anticipate running these sessions during this term so that work with students can start before the end of term. 

Provide (a limited number of) Dragon and SpeakQ+WordQ licences to schools.

Schools who take part in the project can use the free speech recognition tools built into Windows, MacOS and on tablets, but we also want to include Dragon NaturallySpeaking and WordQ+SpeakQ in the project, so we have a small number of licences for both programs that we can provide free to schools. We anticipate having more schools involved than we have licences and so we will probably choose who gets the software by drawing lots. 

Schools can use one or more of the above, e.g. Dragon NaturallySpeaking on one machine, Windows SR on another, and/or Siri.

Support schools to trial speech recognition software

As well as the web pages, we will organise (free) sessions to introduce the speech recognition tools. We’ll have these on a few dates across the country.

We will suggest a procedure for staff to follow to teach students and record results, possibly based on  Speech Recognition as AT for Writing, by Daniel Cochrane and Kelly Key, or the Speech Recognition Trial Protocol, by Cindy Cavanagh.

Gather and publish case studies / reports.

We hope that participating schools will share case studies or reports on their experiences and we intend to provide an outline format for schools to use to collect information about learners as they learn to use SR. The main question is whether SR is viable for implementation at the end of the trial.

 

If you are interested in taking part, register an interest by emailing Paul.Nisbet@ed.ac.uk by Thursday April 30th. We will get back to you after this date to discuss next steps. 

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Work at CALL!

By Paul Nisbet on Monday 30th March, 2015 at 4:15pm

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Development Officer - Assistive Technology & Additional Support Needs

As a result of recent and upcoming staff changes, we are looking for a person to come and join the CALL team. This post is full-time and fixed-term until 31st March 2017 - although we hope and expect that funding will continue beyond this date. Secondment is also a possibility. If you would like to discuss the post informally please call Paul on 0131 651 6235 or email Paul.Nisbet@ed.ac.uk

The post details are on TES jobs.

"You will be a qualified teacher with extensive experience working with children and young people with disabilities and/or additional support needs. You will have expertise with specialist assistive technologies.

This post includes elements of research, capacity building, and knowledge exchange in addition to direct work with learners in schools. The post is diverse, exciting and challenging: it involves providing assistive technology assessment and support for learners with additional support needs in schools; developing and delivering Continuing Professional Learning; resource development; and the opportunity to develop projects and developments with schools, local authorities and national agencies. The post is an exciting opportunity to work in a rapidly changing field and to promote and develop good practice in assistive technology, both in Scotland and internationally. The post involves working across Scotland and you will have a car licence and access to a car.

CALL is based in the Moray House School of Education and is funded primarily by the Scottish Government to lead and support the use of assistive and communication technologies by learners with disabilities and/or Additional Support needs."

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A new FREE editor for creating digital prelims, assessments and resources!

By Paul Nisbet on Friday 27th March, 2015 at 4:50pm

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PDFescape is a new browser-based PDF editor with the facility to insert form fields (answer boxes). The free service lets you upload a PDF, do simple editing, add form fields, and then download back to your computer. The PDF can then be accessed by learners on computer using for example Adobe Reader, or on an iPad.

PDFescape has got two significant advantages: it is free, so you don't need to buy a PDF editor such as Acrobat Pro, and since it is browser-based, you don’t need to install any software on your computer.​

Inserting form fields is straightforward but entirely manual – there is no automatic form field recognition as provided by Acrobat Pro. Text, check (tick), radio, list and dropdown fields can all be inserted. There are also some limitations:

  • The answer boxes do not have coloured borders so you cannot give them the red border that is used by SQA on Digital Question Papers. This also means that they are invisible to the user unless the ‘Highlight Existing Fields’ feature is activated by the user in Adobe Reader.
  • The answer boxes do not have a colour fill option – they are transparent so if your PDF has handwriting lines they will show through – unless you use the editor to draw in a white box to cover them up.
  • You have to set the properties of each field when you create it – you can’t set default properties - which is slower than setting default properties for all your fields.

PDFescape looks like a great resource for adding answer boxes to PDFs of classroom resources and internal assessments, but for prelims we think it’s good practice to create papers with red answer boxes like the SQA digital papers, which requires Acrobat Pro or one of the other editors. Also, it lacks a lot of the features of Acrobat Pro, such as scanning and text recognition, editing text, page numbering, setting tab order of answer boxes, etc. Lastly, it doesn't have Accessibility tools and so you cannot ensure that your PDF is accessble to users or, for example, screen readers. 

Verdict: a good tool for making class resources, but we think you need Acrobat Pro or similar for creating prelims. 

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Bright Red to provide digital files for Learners with Print Disabilities

By Paul Nisbet on Thursday 19th March, 2015 at 4:02pm

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We are excited to announce that Bright Red Publishing are the latest Scottish textbook publisher to agree to provide digital copies of their books for the Books for All Database. Bright Red publish Study and Revision Guides for Intermediate, National 5 and Highers and also SQA Past Papers. Over the next few weeks we will be adding their books to the database and we'll list the books on the blog and on the Database News pages as they become available.

This is particularly good timing since the 2015 exams are looming ever closer!

Staff and learners should also check out the free Bright Red Digital Zone. This "is a fully interactive online resource where teachers can find useful information and students can put in that extra effort to help them get the best possible grades". The website has been developed in collaboration with Professor Bill Buchanan at Edinburgh Napier University.

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New books on the Books for All Database

By Paul Nisbet on Wednesday 18th March, 2015 at 5:08pm

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Rebecca has uploaded some more books from VTSS in Edinburgh to the Books for All Database. Some are scanned copies and some are Large Print. The new books are:

Geography:  

German:

History:

Home Economics 

Hospitality

Modern Studies

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New French books on the Books for All Database from VTSS in Edinburgh

By Paul Nisbet on Tuesday 3rd March, 2015 at 5:58pm

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Just before Christmas Mary Matson from Edinburgh and Lothians VTSS transcription team kindly gave us over 15,000 files to add to the database.

Rebecca Gow here in CALL, with help from James, a student, have gone through this treasure trove and sorted and edited the files into complete books. Some of the books are beautifully laid out Large Print, whilst others are scanned copies of paper books. The scanned files have been converted into text, but (as you can imagine) we've not had time to proof-read and correct them, so you will find some errors.

Over the next few weeks we will check and upload books for different subjects to the database and post a list of the new titles on the blog and on the Database News page.

The first batch are French books:

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tha e air beagan Gàidhlig?

By Paul Nisbet on Wednesday 25th February, 2015 at 3:00pm

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We are pleased to report that we have received funding to work with CereProc to develop and license a Scottish Gaelic computer voice for the Scottish public sector. CereProc are a world-class text-to-speech company based in Edinburgh and the Gaelic voice development is funded by The Scottish Government Gaelic and Scots UnitScottish Funding CouncilScottish Qualifications Authority and Bòrd na Gàidhlig.

The new Gaelic voice will be available to schools from The Scottish Voice website for the start of the 2015-16 academic session, alongside  Heather and Stuart, which are high quality computer English voices with a Scottish accent. We first licensed Heather from CereProc in 2008 and she was followed by Stuart, in 2011, and they are now used in computers in schools all across Scotland in a variety of ways by learners with additional support needs. For example:

  • students with reading difficulties use the voices to read digital textbooks, assessments or digital exam papers;
  • learners with visual impairment use the voices to read and access the computer screen;
  • pupils who have difficulties with communication use the voices in their electronic voice output aids for personal communication.

By licensing Heather and Stuart nationally, schools and other public agencies are saved the cost of buying the voices or buying computer reader software with high quality voices. We estimate that we have saved Scottish education at least £2 million compared with the cost of schools or local authorities buying the voices commercially. 

However, there is no Scottish Gaelic computer voice available and so Gaelic learners and speakers do not have the same opportunities as Scottish English speakers. The new Gaelic voice will we hope address this.

The Gaelic computer voice will not just benefit learners with disabilities and additional support needs:  anyone who reads Gaelic could find it helpful to read web sites, documents, or to check and proof-read their own letters or emails. The voice will be licensed for use by Scottish schools, colleges, universities, local and national government agencies, NHS units and for use at home by pupils and staff.

    

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How accessible are your school computers? Are we meeting legal obligations?

By Paul Nisbet on Wednesday 4th February, 2015 at 6:01pm

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On 31 October the Scottish Government published Guidance on “Planning improvements for disabled pupils’ access to education” which "describes the requirements the Act places on education authorities and schools to work to improve the education of disabled learners and to help ensure that they are properly included in, and able to benefit fully from, their school education."

The Guidance contains two appendices that refer specifically to measures that local authorities should take to improve the accessibility of school ICT and computers. It covers things like installing the Scottish computer voices; having text-to-speech software available; providing access to control panels so that students with disabilities can make adjustments to enable access; etc. The document is available here: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2014/10/8011.

Now that the guidance is published, it would be helpful to get a snapshot of how accessible school computers are across the country, and what might need to be done to improve the accessibility of ICT used in schools.

To accomplish this, please help us by completing a survey that you can find here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/accessICT.

We know that in some parts of the country, learners have the benefit of readily-available accessibility software and adjustments, but in other schools the provision is not so good. By completing the survey you will help identify areas where improvements might be made. Please also pass the link on to your colleagues.

Many thanks,

Paul

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TeeJay books are available on the Books for All Database again

By Paul Nisbet on Tuesday 13th January, 2015 at 10:59am

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Following the incident where a TeeJay book was found available on the internet (see the 7 January blog post), we have modified the wording of the Books for All Database records and we hope that it is clearer and encourages staff to read and understand the terms and conditions.

Tom Strang at TeeJay is happy with the wording and so we have made the TeeJay books available once again. We are very grateful to Tom for his understanding and for allowing us to share his publications, free of charge, so that learners with print disabilities can access them.

You can see all the TeeJay books by clicking here

This is the arrangement:


These accessible copies are made available under the terms of the Copyright Licensing Agency Print Disability Licence to be used only by a learner who is visually impaired or otherwise disabled and by reason of such visual impairment or disability is unable to read or access the original printed book.

Under the terms of the licence you must download or obtain an accessible copy for each learner who needs one. All learners must have a print disability.

By downloading this book I confirm that:

  • I am downloading this book for a learner with a print disability.  I will not supply the book to learners who do not have a print disability.  I will not upload the book to the internet for public access.  
  • I understand that I am legally responsible for the file and for its usage.  
  • I agree to the Books for All Database Terms and Conditions.

Books for All Database Licence Conditions for TeeJay Books

  • The user of this Accessible Digital Copy must have legal access to a print copy of the book, bought either for personal use or as part of a class set.
  • The Accessible Digital Copy should be deleted once the pupil has completed the course for which it was supplied.

 

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Wot? No TeeJay Books?

By Paul Nisbet on Friday 9th January, 2015 at 3:17pm

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You may have found that the TeeJay maths PDFs are not on the Books for All database any more. We have temporarily removed them because just before Christmas one of the files appeared on Wikispaces, freely downloadable, and this is not permitted under the agreement we have with TeeJay.

We are discussing how we can prevent this from happening with TeeJay and once we have a solution we hope to have them available again soon.

This emphasises how important it is to abide by the Books for All terms and conditions and to ensure that the files are only provided for learners with print disabilities. If we collectively don't protect the publishers' rights and property, they won't let us share their files. 

Watch this space - we'll let you know when they are available again.

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New resource - Accessing Books - A Guide for Dyslexic Adults

By Stuart Aitken on Friday 9th January, 2015 at 1:13pm

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A new free resource book on dyslexia is available. Although written mainly for adults who have dyslexia it may be of interest to a more general audience that includes parents of children with dyslexia.

Written anonymously by an adult who has dyslexia it takes a holistic approach to reading. It describes skills, alternative formats (large print sources, audio source, audiobook sources etc.) and dyslexia friendly options,  Also, it considers why an adult might want to engage with books (benefits, strategies), the position regarding copyright and more.

The resource uses a font that is readable with good size and line spacing and sections that are  split into manageable chunks. A 3-page synopsis is included as an Appendix. For those who prefer a more visual approach a spider diagram is also provided to  guide people to the relevant section of interest.  

Additional information provided to us by the author -

‘Accessing Books - A Guide for Dyslexic Adults’ is a free resource which:

  • explores various options that dyslexics can use to succeed with books;
  • provides tips, ideas and information; and
  •  is written by a dyslexic adult

Downloading the guide

The guide is available to download in PDF from one of these three options:   

  1. http://bit.ly/13wIPvO
  2. Download from Google Drive
  3. WordPress blogpost​ - then click on the text at end of post ‘Accessing Books – A Guide for Dyslexic Adults’ 

As some may find an online or digital copy difficult to use you are free to print the downloaded guide or any part of it.

Members of Dyslexia Scotland can borrow a paper copy (including a CD). 

Non-members can consult it at the Dyslexia Scotland Resource Centre.

Dyslexia Scotland Resource Centre
Dyslexia Scotland
2nd floor - East Suite
Wallace House
17 - 21 Maxwell Place
Stirling FK8 1JU
Tel. 01786 44 66 50

 

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Digital Exams in New Zealand

By Paul Nisbet on Tuesday 6th January, 2015 at 9:48am

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Back in 2006 Naomi and Ross Forrester from Speaking Solutions in New Zealand visited us to find out about digital exams. Naomi and Ross are experts in speech recognition and digital tools to support learners with disabilities and difficulties. Since then they have been working with Louise Oliphant at Auckland's Sacred Heart College to introduce digital assessments and examinations and Naomi sent me a copy of an article published in the New Zealand Interface magazine, which makes interesting reading.

The school are now using digital exams and assessments for students who would normally require a reader and/or writer and have found that the students achieve similar grades to their mainstream counterparts. They are at the point where they can hold multilevel assessments for more than 30 students in one room with 2 invigilators and this gives an 80% saving to the school in terms of wages, room costs and administration. The article notes that "the results from digital examinations have been astounding" and digital exams are regarded as a "fair and equal way of testing their abilities". The article gives an example of using digital maths papers, where students use text-to-speech to read the questions and handwrite their answers, and points out that this tests "knowledge of mathematics rather than whether a candidate could read the questions."

The article concludes that "Overwhelmingly, the research and experience at Sacred Heart College demonstrates that all students – not just those who have special learning needs – should be extended the opportunity to choose a digital format as an option to complete examinations, thus expressing true subject competency, rather than their ability to read and write.​"

Great to hear about digital assessments and exams having a positive impact on the other side of the world.

 

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Create your PDF prelims, assessments, worksheets and activities on your iPad!

By Paul Nisbet on Friday 12th December, 2014 at 5:36pm

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Previously if you wanted to create an interactive digital prelim, assessment or other resource with answer boxes on screen, you had to use Adobe Acrobat Pro, which costs around about £60 per license under a special licensing arrangement from Education Scotland. Even though this is a very good deal (the full commercial rate for Acrobat Pro is £440), some staff have commented that it is a significant outlay for each department in a school to buy a copy. 

However, there are now some alternatives to Acrobat Pro that are worth considering. I'll outline the Windows software options in a blog next week, and today I want to introduce PDF Office, which is a brand new app that lets you create digital question papers and prelims on your iPad!

DF Office lets you open a PDF, do small edits to the text and add drawings and other annotations, and most importantly, you can insert form fields for answer boxes. There is a form field detection feature that adds fields automatically for you. In testing on my standard prelim paper, I found that it works very well: it even detected the difference between a field where I wanted a tick box, and other fields where I wanted text boxes. (This is better than Acrobat, which puts text boxes into tick box fields that you then have to delete.)

You can change the properties of the fields to make them look like the SQA Digital Question papers, i.e. red borders, multi-line where necessary. I couldn't find a way to select all the fields in the whole paper to make these changes once, but it was easy to select all the fields on one page and set the properties for that page.

You can draw in fields for text, tick boxes, numbers, date, radio buttons, action buttons (e.g. send by email), drop-down lists, and image fields for users to insert photos from the camera. You can tap on a field and duplicate it, which gives a faster way of inserting fields.  

You would want to use a stylus rather than your finger, to get accurate positioning (although it 'snaps' to other fields that keeps things nicely aligned), and I actually found it slightly easier and quicker than using a mouse on a computer.

The completed PDFs can be accessed and completed by students on iPad using apps like Adobe Reader, ClaroPDF and PDF Expert, or on a computer with Adobe Reader or Foxit Reader.

Cost? The app is free, but to use it you need a subscription which is quoted at $4.99/month or $39.99/year. However, when I installed it, it gave me a free year's subscription for nothing because I already had PDF Expert, one of Readdle's other apps, on my iPad. PDF Expert costs £6.99, so for just £6.99 you can get both PDF Expert, which is an excellent tool for reading and managing PDFs, and a year's worth of making digital prelims and resources on your iPad!

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