NERAC Training Day

NERAC, the North East Regional Assessment Centre, is based within the University’s Disability Support Service and provides study needs assessments for students at the University and from other universities and colleges in the North East. This training day was to provide an overview of the latest versions of software and hardware which can be made available to assist students with specific needs, and was very helpful in raising my awareness of what is available and which I will cascade to my team.

For literacy support two software packages were discussed, Read&Write and ClaroRead Pro. Both have functionality for converting text to speech, highlighting, conversation to other formats including MP3, and scanning tools. Read&Write tends to be the preferred software with students, partly for its better spell checker which can check as you type and pick up on phonetical spelling errors, e.g. suggesting ‘enough’ for ‘anuf’.

There was an excellent presentation on hearing impairment which discussed the different types of hearing aids which are available and how these can be complimented by technology such as induction loops and the Roger Pen. Two software packages for audio note taking were introduced, Sonocent Audio Notetaker and Notetalker. Both packages allow students to annotate presentations, e.g. PowerPoint files, with audio recorded notes, and have text to speech functionality for the conversation of recorded presentations, though it was noted that these rarely work as well as intended in real world scenarios due to background noise.

Next, two tools for mind mapping were discussed, MindView and Inspiration. MindView was noted as being the generally preferred package at this time, as it has a familiar Office style ribbon toolbar and some nice features such as being able to add multiple notes and attachments to each branch, collaborative working, a citation tool, and a Gantt chart tool. Inspiration offers a word guide which can suggest synonyms and definitions, a presentation tool, and mobile apps, though it was noted that these were fairly basic.

Finally, software for screen reading and magnification were presented – Supernova and ZoomText. Both tools can do screen magnification, and ZoomText is able to apply different colour schemes to open windows and applications, as well as to the mouse cursor and pointer. It also has a feature called AppReader which can convert text to speech and can reflow the text in a magnified window as it is reading it out. Also demonstrated was Readit which can scan images and convert to text using optical character recognition. This also works with PDF files in which the pages are image files rather than text, useful for older journals which have only had simple scans. Readit can export to various formats, including Word and MP3.

PG Cert AP: Day 7

First session of the new semester was the odd one that has me teaching on it. The first part was delivered by the module leader and covered cognitive load theory and what implications this has on the use and design of digital learning materials. Cognitive load theory states that as learning involves effort, there are therefore limits on how much information can be processed at any one time. Sweller identified three types of effort – intrinsic, extraneous and germane. Intrinsic load is that which has to be learned, extraneous load is additional information that distracts somehow (e.g. the overuse of footnotes which requires people to flick between the body and the footnotes), and germane load which front loads some additional effort with the intention of making learning easier and more efficient in the long term. Well-designed learning materials should aim to reduce extraneous load to increase intrinsic or germane load.

My session followed this by demonstrating some content creation tools and giving examples on how they can be used to create good materials. My time was very limited so it had to be a demonstration rather than a guided hands-on session, and I included Storyline, Prezi, ThingLink, Pictochart and PowToon. Each one of these could easily have warranted a half-day session to really get into detail and this is something that we’re thinking about for next year, as the programme leader for the PG Cert and my team will both be part of a new CELT which the university is in the process of forming now. The programme leader was also in this session, primarily with their student hat on, but they were also informally observing me to give me some feedback. That was all pretty positive, saying that I was able to answer all the questions that came up calmly and confidently, which is reassuring, as I personally felt like I fluffed the PowToon part. The application has changed a lot since I last used it in earnest and I hadn’t given myself sufficient time to get used to the new version in my session preparation. I followed up the session by publishing a comprehensive range of further information and self-help resources on the module’s SunSpace site which I pointed people towards.