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New John Muir Graphic Novel available in accessible digital format

By Paul Nisbet on Wednesday 16th April, 2014 at 4:58pm

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A new graphic novel based on the life of John Muir, the Scottish pioneering conservationist was launched by the Scottish Book Trust earlier this month. The novel is written by award-winning author Julia Bertagna and illustrated by Glasgow-based artist William Goldsmith, and free copies are being sent to every secondary school in Scotland for use by pupils in S1, S2 and S3.

So what about young people who can't read or access the free copies, I hear you ask? Well, the good news is that we have been working hard with the authors, the Book Trust, and the designers at Metaphrog to create an accessible digital version of the novel. 

This turned out to be quite tricky. Most graphic novels are PDF image files, and while you can zoom in and magnify the text, and turn pages and navigate on a computer or device, you can't  have the text read out by the computer. However, we wanted to have the option of text-to-speech because it can really help readers with dyslexia, visual impairment, hearing impairment or non-native English speakers. This meant that the novel had to have proper, selectable text, and so John and Sandra at Metaphrog created a special font to mimic William Goldsmith's handwriting, and then used this font to create a special accessible version of the novel. We also spent many hours working out the best way to get the text read out in the correct order by the free text reader in Adobe Reader, and John and Sandra went through every page checking and adjusting it. Lastly, they added bookmarks so that readers can see the table of contents and click to go to a particular section.

I'm pretty chuffed with the way it has turned out and grateful for the opportunity to work with the artists and authors and I think it is a good model for graphic novels in general. 

Apart from giving readers with print disabilities access to the book, it also fits with the general theme of conservation and sustainability, since no trees were harmed in the production of the digital copy.

You can download the novel from the Scottish Book Trust web site. (Make sure you get the accessible version and not the standard PDF which doesn't have readable text.) There are also teaching notes for use in different subjects across the curriculum.

You can read the novel on a computer or on an iPad or Android tablet, and I've written some quick guides: one for Windows, and another for iPad. To read it on a Windows or Mac, you just need the free Adobe Reader software which will probably be on your computer already. You can read the novel with the free Scottish voices.

For the iPad, we suggest reading the novel with ClaroPDF because it has good text-to-speech tools (including Fiona, a Scottish voice) and at 69p it's a steal. (Fiona costs £1.49 extra.)

If you have an Android tablet, try ezPDF Reader (£2.49) with the CereProc Scottish voices (£1.19 each).

Enjoy! 

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Dragon NaturallySpeaking on inexpensive laptops

By Paul Nisbet on Wednesday 2nd April, 2014 at 12:13pm

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Recently there has been renewed interest in the potential of speech recognition for learners with writing and literacy difficulties (partly as a result of the restriction on use of a scribe for assessing writing at National 3/4 Literacy). Dragon NaturallySpeaking is we think the best speech recognition software for Windows PC, and I was interested whether it would run on the relatively low powered Acer TravelNote laptop that is available from XMA through the Scottish Tablet and Notebook Procurement Scheme. (There are of course scores of lightweight laptops around but it's often easier and cheaper for schools and local authorities to buy machines through this national procurement scheme.)

So we did an experiment - I installed Dragon NaturallySpeaking Premium 12 on the Acer and on my own Dell laptop, dictated into both at the same time, and tried to see if there was any time lag or lack of response between the two machines. The Acer has a Celeron 1.5Gz processor with 2 GB of RAM, while the Dell has an i5 2.5 GHz processor and 4 GB RAM, so the Dell should be noticeably faster. Both machines were running Windows 7. I didn't bother to train Dragon to my voice, and the accuracy was pretty good 'out of the box'.  I looked like an even bigger prat than usual by wearing two identical headsets (Andrea NC181VM USB)... 

In fact, for basic dictation, we couldn't see much difference between the two. The Acer seemed slightly slower to load programs and Dragon said that the natural language processing facility wouldn't work because of the lack of RAM and processor speed, but apart from that it was fine. (The natural language commands let you give commands to Word in simpler English (e.g.. 'Turn on bold') but not having them is not a huge disadvantage because you can still usually use the more formal commands (e.g.. 'Set Font Bold')  for most tasks.)

The Acer costs £216; Dragon Naturally Speaking Premium Education is £99; so for £315 schools can get a lightweight laptop running a good speech recognition system. (You would probably need MS Office which your local authority would install, and we strongly recommend a USB headset like the Andrea at around £30 but the total cost still seems pretty good value.)

Alternatively, for about the same price you can get an iPad Air and try the free built-in Siri speech recognition - you do need an internet connection but we think it's just as good as Dragon and it seems more forgiving of strong accents and also very simple to use.

 

 

  

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Further clarification that MiniReader CAN be installed on school computers

By Paul Nisbet on Friday 7th February, 2014 at 5:34pm

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Text-to-speech is one of the most useful accessibility tools for learners with and also without literacy or access difficulties. Pupils with dyslexia or reading difficulties can use text-to-speech to access digital text; pupils with English as a second language, or with language or learning difficulties can use text-to-speech to aid their understanding; learners with visual impairment who have difficulty seeing the text can use it to read faster and with greater comfort; and ALL learners, with or without additional support needs, can benefit from using text-to-speech to proof read and improve their work.

In our view, text-to-speech is an accessibility essential and all school computers should have a text-to-speech reader available, along with the free Scottish computer voices.

There are a many text-to-speech programs available, but if you need a free, simple program for windows, take a look at Ivona MiniReader. I introduced MiniReader in a previous blog and on our MiniReader web page:and the purpose of this blog is to reassure local authority and school staff that it is legal to install MiniReader on school computers.

On 12 November 2012, I asked Ivona whether MiniReader could be installed on all the computers in a school and was told that:

"Of course you can use MiniReader at schools. I hope that it will be good promotion for our other products like IVONA Voices and IVONA Reader."

On 16 September 2013, following some questions from local authority technical staff, I emailed Ivona to ask:

"Can you confirm again that it is acceptable for your free MiniReader software to be installed on school computers in Scotland?"

to which Ivona responded:

"Minireader is free so it can be installed on school PC's."

And on 7th January 2014, a colleague in a local authority asked Ivona to clarify whether they could use the MiniReader with the school's own computer voices. Ivona said:

"Our Minireader is for free. You can download this product by clicking "Free download" on http://www.ivona.com/en/mini-reader/"

I hope that this provides clarification and reassurance! Let's get on with reading.....

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New Maths in Action Large Print Books on the Books for All Database

By Paul Nisbet on Monday 3rd February, 2014 at 11:10am

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Thanks to Marie Lawson from the Vision Service in Shetland for contributing a new 18 point Large Print copy of New Maths in Action S22. It's available as two parts and you can find them on the Database by clicking the links below: 

Marie previously contributed Large print copies of New Maths in Action S1-1 and S1-2Click here to see all the New Maths in Action books on the database.

Remember also that you can get some Nelson Thornes Maths in Action books as PDF files from the Load2Learn database. Load2Learn currently has PDFs of New Maths in Action S2/2S3/2 and S3/3 and also PDFs of the new Curriculum for Excellence titles - Maths in Action: National 4 and Maths in Action National 5Load2Learn is like a 'sister' database of Books for All and is run by RNIB and Dyslexia Action. 

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National 5 Specimen papers with answer boxes are now available

By Paul Nisbet on Monday 6th January, 2014 at 4:03pm

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The SQA Question Paper team have added 'answer boxes' to the National 5 specimen papers and these can be downloaded from the SQA Digital Question Paper pages. Feedback from students is that it is much easier to type in answers directly on the paper, than to use a separate digital answer booklet. Papers in question-and-answer format that have answer boxes include for example Biology Section 2, Computing Science, Drama, French Reading, Gaelic Reading, Music, Physics and Philosophy.

Papers that are not in question-and-answer format (such as English and History) do not have answer boxes, and learners either hand-write their answers into a paper answer booklet, or use use digital versions of answer booklets which can be downloaded in PDF and also Word format.

The papers and answer booklets can be freely downloaded by teachers, parents and learners for revision and practice. 

To find out more about how to use Digital Question Papers visit the CALL Digital Assessment web site and refer to SQA's Digital Question papers Guidance pages.

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Reading PDFs and Digital Question Papers with Texthelp Read and Write Gold

By Paul Nisbet on Thursday 19th December, 2013 at 4:33pm

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Yesterday a teacher called to ask for advice about using Texthelp's Read and Write Gold with the SQA Digital Question Papers. She had two problems and the suggestions I made may be of interest to others who use Read and Write Gold:

  1. The first problem was that the PDF Aloud text-to-speech tool reads out the entire answer typed into a PDF Digital Answer Booklet, which is not good when you usually just want a sentence or paragraph of your text read out.

Unfortunately, this is the way it is with PDF Aloud, and there is no way around it that I know of. However, I suggested two alternatives:

  • Using a Digital Answer Booklet in Microsoft Word format, with the Read and Write Gold Play tool, rather than the PDF Aloud reader. I think the Word DABs are a better option anyway – text flows across from page to page, unlike the PDFs; you can format the text; the word spellchecker is better; R&W Gold works well in Word.)
  • Use the PDF Digital Answer Booklet, but use the Read and Write Gold Play tool instead of PDFaloud. The learner can then select the text and click to have it read out.

Teaching learners to use the Read and Write Play tool may be a better approach anyway, because then they get used to using the same speech tool to read everything – Word files, the internet, emails, and PDFs. I’ve heard some staff say that this is how they use R&W Gold and that they don’t bother with PDFaloud.

You can find out how to use the Play tool on our  Digital Assessment web site and from this downloadable Quick Guide.

The second problem she had was that Read and Write Gold seemed to work on the school's Windows XP computers, but not on the Windows 7 machines. I contacted Texthelp for clarification on what works with what, and they have helpfully provided the table below. 

 

 

Read and Write Gold 8.1

Play

Read and Write Gold 8.1

PDFaloud

Read and Write Gold 9

Play

Read and Write Gold 9 

PDFaloud

Read and Write Gold 10 

Play

Read and Write Gold 10 

PDFaloud

Read and Write Gold 11 

Play

Read and Write Gold 11 

PDFaloud

Windows 7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adobe Reader 9

No

RW8.1 is no longer supported

No

Yes / No

(Yes, after serial number 245769, from 22/10/09 onwards)

Yes

(to make it work with the Scottish Voices download this update)

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Adobe Reader X

No

No

No

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Adobe Reader XI

No

No

No

No

Yes

(you need the up to date version, 10.0.6)

Yes

(you need the up to date version, 10.0.6)

Yes

Yes

Windows XP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adobe Reader 9

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Adobe Reader X

No

No

No

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Adobe Reader XI

No

No

No

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

 

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Using Word Grids in the Clicker Books App

By Allan Wilson on Friday 13th December, 2013 at 9:15am

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My colleague, Craig, quite likes the Clicker Books app, particularly the word grid/bank support, but it took a while to work out how to create word grids/banks – unfortunately it isn’t very intuitive and not immediately obvious. Craig has now created a very, very quick guide.

 

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The Scottish Voice: latest version available

By Robert Stewart on Tuesday 10th December, 2013 at 10:58am

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The latest version (3.1) of the Scottish Voice is now available to download. It is available for both Windows and Mac (Intel). They will also work on the latest version of OS X (Maverick 10.9).

Once installed on your computer, you can use Heather or Stuart with most 'text-to-speech' programs to read:

It's recommended that you uninstall any previous version of the voice first. This can be done via:

  • Windows: 'Add/Remove Programs' on Control Panel;
  • Mac:or delete them from the Applications folder.

The voices are licensed for: State-run schools, pupils at home, Scottish Colleges, Scottish Universities, Scottish Open University students, Scottish charities dealing with pupils and NHS patients, Scottish Local Authorities, NHS Scotland, Scottish government agencies and the public sector in general.

The voices are not licensed for: Independent schools, private companies, Scottish students studying abroad and individuals not covered by the above. If you wish, you can purchase a copy from the CALL Scotland shop.

 

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Word prediction is confirmed as a reasonable adjustment for assessing writing in National Literacy

By Paul Nisbet on Monday 9th December, 2013 at 7:00pm

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SQA have confirmed that word prediction software is a reasonable adjustment for learners with disabilities for the writing assessment of Literacy at National 3 or 4. 

Word predictors analyse text as it is typed on the computer, and try to ‘predict’ the words that the learner is most likely to want, from a dictionary or lexicon of words. The writer types or selects a letter and the program offers a list of the most common words beginning with that letter. If the required word is on the list, the writer selects it with mouse, keyboard or other access tool. If the word is not on the list, the learner types the next letter and a different choice of words is offered.

There are many word prediction programs available, such as Co:Writer, ClaroRead, LetMeType, Penfriend, Read and Write Gold and Write:Online. Some Scottish local authorities have authority-wide licences for some of these programs.

Word prediction can reduce the number of keystrokes needed to type by up to 50% and so learners with physical disabilities use them to reduce effort and to increase endurance and therefore the amount that can be written in one session.

Word prediction can also help learners with even quite severe spelling difficulties because the writer only needs to type the first few letters of the word and then select it from the list of words offered. Most of the predictors can cope with letter reversals (e.g. b/d) or phonetic spelling errors and still offer a valid list of words. Learners with reading difficulties can usually point or click on the words in the prediction lists and have them read out by the computer, to make sure the correct word is selected.  

Some literacy skills are necessary to be successful with word prediction. The writer must be able to decide what they want to say, type a reasonable approximation to the first few letters of the word and then recognise and select the word in the list. Some writers cannot get the first letters right at all; others may miss the word when it is offered in the list or choose a different one by mistake. Some pupils also find that shifting attention between the text, the keyboard and the predicted list interrupts their flow of thought and slows them down. (If this is this case, it can be helpful to use an on-screen keyboard so that the writer maintains focus on the screen.)

Research and experience shows that word prediction can be very effective method of support, particularly for learners with more significant literacy difficulties for whom spellcheckers are not sufficient. 

Word prediction in assessment of literacyat National 3 and 4

SQA regard word prediction as a reasonable adjustment, but staff should ensure that the software is not providing inappropriate levels of support. For example, the predictor should:

  • only offer single words or paired words in the context of the writing topic (e.g. ‘Tyrannosaurus Rex’;
  • not offer whole phrases or sentences;
  • not be programmed such that the learner can simply hit one key to regurgitate an entire text.

For the avoidance of doubt, SQA have confirmed that the following facilities can be used where available:

  • phonetic prediction (e.g. Co:writer’s FlexSpell);
  • ‘next word prediction’, where the software offers a list of words immediately after the last one typed;
  • topic dictionaries matched to the writing task.

This information is provided for guidance: it is the responsibility of the teacher to assess whether a learner has achieved the standard for writing in literacy, and so staff should use their professional skills and judgement to ensure that the support provided is appropriate.

Find out more about how ICT can be used in assessment of writing on our web page.

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Using networked computers in examinations

By Paul Nisbet on Monday 2nd December, 2013 at 12:31pm

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Staff often ask whether to use standalone or networked computers in exams, and so we have written a quick guide (below) and also available for download.

Exam Profiles for Digital Question Papers

In an exam you can either use standalone computers, or you can use machines attached to your school network. The best way to run digital exams is to use networked computers and for your technicians to set up ‘exam profiles' on the machines.

The Exam Profiles should:

  • prevent access to internet, USB memory sticks, Bluetooth and any folders or files on the school network or computer – to prevent cheating;
  • have the software required for the exam (usually Adobe Reader and Microsoft Word, plus text-to-speech software);
  • give access to an ‘exam folder’ on the network.

Each Exam Profile – Exam1, Exam2 etc. – has a network folder with the same name, with read and write access for the pupils.

Prior to the exam, staff should create a planning table which matches the pupils against the computers and the Exam Profiles - e.g. Joe Brown will be on computer 1 with Exam Profile 1; Jane Smith on computer 2 with Exam Profile 2; and so on.

On the day of the exam, the SfL teacher or technician, in the presence of the invigilator, puts the CD into their own networked computer and copies the papers from the CD to the network folders for each pupil.

Spellcheck on/off

SQA provide two versions of the Digital Question Paper on the CD: one with the spellchecker enabled (e.g. ‘Int_2_Geography_Spellchcheckon’), and the other with spellchecker turned off (e.g. ‘Int_2_Geography_Spellchcheckoff’). Make sure you copy the correct papers to the correct network folders for each pupil – for example, you might designate Computers 1 to 3 for candidates who are not using the spellchecker, and Computers 4 and 5 for learners who do have permission to use the spellchecker.

Digital Answer Booklets

If Digital Answer Booklets are required for the exam, they should be downloaded in advance from the SQA web site at http://www.sqa.org.uk/digitalquestionpapers and then copied to the Exam Profile network folders.

Data Booklets

If required, PDF versions of Data Booklets for sciences and Technological Studies should also be downloaded from the same SQA site and copied to the network folders.

Paper copies

SQA provide paper copies of the examination for all the candidates that are using Digital Papers:  learners can use both at any time during the examination.

On the day

Pupils sit down at the computers and are told the computer and the Exam Profile they are to use. They log on to Exam1, or Exam2 etc and they can see the correct paper sitting for them in the network folder. They open it, work on it, and save it frequently as they go through it. (Staff should also ensure that the Adobe Reader ‘auto-save’ is turned on.)

At the end of the exam candidates print their paper and/or answer booklets out on a networked printer (preferably in the room next door to give easy access and to avoid disturbing candidates in the exam room). The candidate should have an opportunity to check over the paper (within the overall time allowed) and if necessary amend and re-print answers before the paper is given to the invigilator.

 

Using networked computers with profiles and folders in this way gives security and is MUCH easier and faster for staff than using standalone computers. If you use standalone machines you will run round sticking the CD into each computer in turn, and then at the end of the exam, run round copying the completed papers off to a USB stick to get them printed. This takes a lot more time and is generally less reliable and more prone to error and high blood pressure than using networked computers with Exam Profiles.

 

Further guidance is available from SQA (http://www.sqa.org.uk/digitalquestionpapers) and CALL Scotland (http://www.adapteddigitalexams.org.uk/). 

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Use of ICT in Assessment of Writing for National 3/4 Literacy

By Paul Nisbet on Monday 2nd December, 2013 at 10:33am

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We have added some notes on using ICT to support learners with additional support needs in National 3 and 4 assessment of writing. As you probably know, human scribes are not regarded as a reasonable adjustment when assessing writing for National 3 and 4 Literacy qualifications, but learners can use ICT. 

The writing assessment at National 3 involves writing at least 80 words on a topic that is being covered in class; National 4 requires 300 words. The assessment is not 'an exam' - it is carried out in class as part of teaching and learning. It is not time-limited and learners can use dictionaries, word banks, mind-maps and other tools to support their writing.

All learners can use (and are encouraged to use) ICT for writing and this includes spellcheckers and autocorrect tools that are bult in to the word processor or device. Pupils with additional needs can also use more specialist access devices and software.

You can read the guidance here and also download the booklet as a PDF.

The booklet on assessing writing complements the notes on using ICT in the assessment of reading already available.

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ICT Accessibility Essentials and Checklist

By Paul Nisbet on Monday 14th October, 2013 at 12:52pm

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Earlier this year we were asked by colleagues in ICTSLS (ICT for Support for Learning in Scotland - staff with specific responsibility for ICT and ASN across Scotland) to produce some simple recommendations about basic accessibility software that one would expect to find on computers in schools. We created two information sheets: ICT Accessibility Essentials, and an ICT Accessibility Checklist. The Essentials leaflet (see below) lists what we think should be made available on school computers in order to make them accessible for learners with disabilities; the Checklist is a simple audit tool.

The leaflets were shared with ICTSLS and they seemed helpful when the assistive technology specialists in local authorities were discussing and planning with technical staff what should be installed and made available on school computers.

Given the recent and on-going discussion regarding text-to-speech and other software for learners with disabilties, we thought we would share the leaflets more widely.

ICT Accessibility Essentials

 

All school computers should have:

An Accessibility Profile should have:

  • All of the above.
  • Access to Control Panels (particularly Display, Ease of Access, Keyboard, Mouse & Speech Recognition) so that designated staff can easily and quickly adjust settings for individual pupils, e.g. change default voices and speeds, alter mouse speed and pointers, adjust keyboard settings, change display font sizes and colours, and adjust other accessibility options.
  • Right click enabled.
  • Facility for staff to easily install accessibility software such as:

Education Scotland sell BoardMaker, Co:Writer, Penfriend and Microsoft Office at discounted prices for Scottish schools. Tel. 0141 282 5000. 

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Use of ICT in assessment - an exemplar from Denny High School

By Paul Nisbet on Thursday 10th October, 2013 at 6:06pm

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Serendipitously, there are some new assessment exemplars focusing on learners with additional support needs on the National Assessment Resource and the exemplar from Denny High School is relevant to the current discussion regarding appropriate support for learners in assessment of literacy at National 3 and 4. (You will need a Glow login to access the NAR and read the report.) 

To quote from the introduction:

"In this quality-marked exemplar, the learning support base in Denny High School demonstrates an innovative approach to preparing learners for the changes to the new National Qualifications which prohibit the use of a human reader / scribe. By using Ivona minireader software learners are equipped with the skills to access information quickly and independently. This exemplar demonstrates a proactive approach to overcoming barriers to assessment of English and Literacy faced by learners with additional support needs."

(Ivona MiniReader is a free general-purpose text-to-speech program that can read from Word files, PDF, the internet, etc ect).

The report is an interesting read because it describes a systematic process for introducing text-to-speech (TTS) technology to staff, learners and parents. There were 45 S1/2 learners involved in the trial and they and the staff seemed to be enthusiastic about the technology and how it can help them access the curriculum more independently and successfully.    

Another interesting observation is that most of the learners said they were using text-to-speech to support both reading and writing - by reading back their own writing, pupils are more able to identify mistakes and correct their work. 

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Use of ICT to assess reading in National 3 and 4 Literacy Units

By Paul Nisbet on Thursday 10th October, 2013 at 12:54pm

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Under Section 96 of the Equality Act, SQA has responsibility to decide what is and is not a ‘reasonable adjustment’ for assessment in the new National Qualifications.

From August 2013, SQA have decided that human readers are not to be regarded as a reasonable adjustment when learners are required to show evidence of their reading skills in SQA National Literacy Units (see http://www.sqa.org.uk/sqa/64698.html).

However, the use of ICT is allowed:

“In order to minimise the disadvantage faced by some disabled learners in attaining the National Units in Literacy, the use of word processors and other assistive technologies such as screen readers, spell checkers or speech-recognition software would be acceptable as reasonable adjustments.” (Specification 3 - Literacy Units http://www.sqa.org.uk/sqa/64702.html)

Teachers, parents and learners have been asking us how learners can use ICT in assessments and so we have put together a brief guide to the use of ICT in assessment of reading.

We are also writing a guide on the use of ICT in assessment of writing, which we will be make available in a later blog and on our web site, so look back soon.

If you have any comments or suggestions on the guide please get in touch!

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eBooks from public libraries

By Paul Nisbet on Tuesday 8th October, 2013 at 4:40pm

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Frank Shaw from South Lanarkshire emailed to say that the South Lanarkshire library service now have an eBook and digital audiobook lending facility. To find out more, visit their web site

I took the opportunity to search and update our Books from Libraries page on the Books for All web site, and most of the council library services in Scotland now offer an eBook lending service where you can download and read eBooks (and sometimes audiobooks) on your computer, iPad, tablet, mobile phone etc.

The majority of the services seem to be using Overdrive, The OverDrive books are EPUB format which you can read on PC, Mac, iOS, Android, smart phones etc.

On a computer you read the books with Adobe Digital Editions (ADE). ADE is becoming more accessible in that with the latest version 2.0, the text can now be read using a few text-to-speech tools, and the font size can be increased to about 24 point, but there is only one font and limited colour options. Visit the Quick Guides page to download a guide on ADE.

For iOS, Android and eBook readers or smart phones, you read ebooks and listen to audiobooks using the OverDrive Media Console app.

RNIB also offer useful infornation on the accessibility of different types of eBooks.

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