Friday, June 18, 2010

Kurzweil's "Secret" Tutorial Videos

Update: Cambium has changed the Sopris website so the how-to videos are no longer where they used to be. I'm not sure if they're gone forever, or just hiding somewhere else. If anyone finds them, please leave a comment.
Most people know about Kurzweil's built-in how-to videos. Many may even be aware of the difficult-to-find online versions of the same videos on the Kurzweil website [general features] [new features from version 11].
But I'm confident that not a lot of people know about additional tutorial videos from Cambium that demonstrate some other features of their most popular piece of software.
Kurzweil Educational Systems is just one subsidiary of Cambium Learning. Sopris is another, focused on curriculum. One of the Sopris resources on their website is this page that links Kurzweil functions to their Language! series. There are 6 strands or "steps" covered by this curriculum, and each one is linked to a table that describes a Kurzweil function, shows the toolbar icon, and has a tiny "view video" link. Both Windows and Mac versions of Kurzweil are covered. Although users of the Language! product from Sopris will appreciate the direct link to their curriculum, anyone can benefit from these videos and how they're linked to language and literacy subskills, regardless of what curriculum they're using. (Which may be why Cambium isn't making these videos easier to find. But then, that's what CyberSERT is here for!)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Visuals + Speech x 13 Languages =

After a training session,  I was eating lunch at a school I've never visited before. I overheard one teacher talking to another about a website that was good for French class (compulsory here in Ontario) or for English Language Learners. Immediately, my eavesdropping ears perked up. This sounded like it could be useful. I asked for the URL, and I was glad I did. That's how I learned about There are the 13 languages at present; after selecting a language you can choose a topic (from letters of the alphabet to organs of the digestive system). A series of visuals represent concepts within that topic, and when you hover your mouse over each one, you hear a voice say the word in the specified language. Just make sure you give the audio a chance to load because you'll see the visuals before the audio becomes available.
It's great for all types of language learners and students who may have communication problems or who may be visual learners studying one of the topics.
And all this comes to you for the low, low price of FREE!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Alternative to Typing: Dasher Software Essential for Some, Addictive Fun For Others

Now for something completely different...
I came across a truly unique, free, open-source piece of AT software called Dasher. It is an alternative input method for Windows, whereby a user can "type" without using any kind of keyboard (physical or on-screen). It works by stacking the alphabet on one side of your screen and letting you steer and drive into the letters and words you want.  The action is similar to some video games, but there are no spaceships or bad guys. You can use a mouse, an eye-tracker, or other devices. Primarily designed for people who don't have full use of 10 fingers for typing, it can be a fairly efficient means of inputting text thanks to its built-in word prediction. According to the website, "Tests have shown that, after an hour of practice, novice users reach a writing speed of about 20 words per minute while taking dictation. Experienced users achieve writing speeds of about 34 words per minute, compared with typical ten-finger keyboard typing of 40-60 words per minute."

It's going to be very difficult to give you a sense of how it works without a video demonstration, so here's a screencast I made that demonstrates how to use Dasher and adjust some of the many settings. Be sure to check out the Dasher website for tips on getting started. It will feel a bit awkward to use at first, but once you get past that, it is actually pretty fun. I found it addictive, to tell you the truth! That's why I think it's also a great way to get a kid who may be physically able to type or write but is very reluctant to write or has high anxiety around the act of writing to start stringing letters together. 

There's even a special version of this software called Speech Dasher. It works with speech-recognition software by Microsoft or Dragon NaturallySpeaking; you dictate and use Speech Dasher as an interface to select and correct words based on your dictation. 

I love Dasher. I think it's brilliant. But I do have some wishes to improve it. A simple one is to make the text-to-speech function say each letter rather than only say each word or a string of words. My other wish is to make a version that is graphically like a modern video-game. Make it more like a 3-D driving or flying game that will engage kids more.

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