Sunday, November 29, 2009

Week #12 - Assistive Technology Software Solutions

After I downloaded the Inspiration 8 software, I started to view the tutorials, which emphasized repeatedly that a visual learning format improves student performance. I looked through the various lesson plan examples already pieced together, and I could see the concept of visual learning taking shape, so to speak. I was impressed how the software can support any curriculum in any subject area. Actually putting together a visual lesson plan was a little tedious at first. Although not absolutely necessary, it is probably a good idea that anyone using Inspiration 8 view the tutorials before attempting to put together lesson plans. Overall, Inspiration 8 is pretty innovative and provides a useful alternative to more traditional lectures, handouts, or lesson plans.

InfoEyes is an excellent service for the visually impaired. The service provides live library support, which I am sure few information sites can match. I don't think I have ever heard iVocalize software being used, but I am sure it has similar features to the assistive technology software that I reviewed.

I was definitely surprised that the basic Windows Vista software available at my fingertips is so extensive when it comes to assistive technology. The options and adjustments that can be made to aid a user with a disability are quite extensive. Actually, there were probably more tutorials about the various options available for Vista than for the other assistive technology software that I read about.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Week #11 - Assistive Technology Hardware Solutions

Watching the videos/stories of two severely physically disabled people overcoming their disabilities was very inspiring. I've seen and read about many stories like these, but it is important to be reminded of them from time to time. Well, more than just from time to time, but you know what I mean. The story of the girl with cerebral palsy who attends college through the use of the DynaVox technology (computer-generated voice recording) specifically touched a nerve because she grew up fairly close to my hometown and attends (or attended) California University of Pennsylvania, which is also pretty close to my hometown. I understand that geography is irrelevant to any feelings that I may have about Beth Anne's struggles and triumphs, but it just makes the situation more concrete somehow. I wonder if Stephen Hawking uses the same, or similar, DynaVox technology to communicate. It seems like the same company could have developed both communcation devices, if they are indeed different.

It is amazing just how much hardware is available for disabled citizens. EnableMart is an excellent website that provides purchasing options for hundreds of devices that aid people with disabilities. While I was browsing through the hardware available on the website and the links provided on the Discovering Assistive Technology webpage, a few stood out. IntelliKeys is a device that is considered by many to be the "leading assistive technology in the world." Looking through the thousands of assistive technology devices available, this seems like a bold statement. However, IntelliKeys probably is the leader in assistive technology because of its versatility. Specifically, its high contrast colors and different keyboard configurations aid several disability groups, including the visually impaired and learning disabled. The Roller Plus Joystick also stood out as an extremely helpful technological aid for people with severe motor impairments.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Week 10 - Discovering Assistive Technology - Types of Disabilities & Accommodations

It was interesting to see that some celebrities who we hear about every day have to live with and overcome disabilities just like many "regular" citizens. I had heard about the struggles of Howie Mandel and Howard Stern with obsessive compulsive disorder, but I hadn't heard of many of the celebrity disability stories that I read about on the website. As I've mentioned before, I am a huge soccer fan, and I had never heard that Tim Howard, who is a goalkeeper for England's Everton FC, suffers from Tourette's syndrome, or that David Beckham, who is probably the most famous soccer player in the world, suffers from OCD. Also, two authors that I admire a lot - Jack Kerouac and Arthur C. Clarke - lived with schizophrenia and polio, respectively.

The National Federation of the Blind website provided many useful links to information and ideas on how to instruct visually impaired students. The 2009 Youth Slam is an excellent way for blind students from all over the United States to gather, interact, and discuss their classroom obstacles, their inspirations, and their aspirations. Braille is Beautiful is an excellent program that teaches sighted students how to read and write Braille. I reviewed the link for this program and I would definitely find a way to fit it into my curriculum so that my students would have a better appreciation of the struggles and obstacles that their visually impaired classmate must deal with on a daily basis. On a much more practical note, my visually impaired student could more easily participate in peer-reviewed activities if his or her classmates could read Braille., the website for the National Center for Learning Disabilities, is a very useful research tool for teachers. The numerous links vary from general information concerning learning disabilities to links that discuss specific learning disabilities such as dyslexia. The Resource Locator feature on the website is a great search tool for teachers, administrators, and parents alike to find outside help and/or assistance, if needed. Information and/or local aid concerning a learning disablity can be found using a basic keyword search.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

#23 - Week 9 - That's All, Folks

Classroom 2.0 is a very unique method of learning how to use some of the newest technological advancements. Not being a tech-head myself, I probably benefitted from this course more than most. The amount of work that had to be completed was pretty evenly spaced out through the weeks, which was really helpful because, as returning students with full-time jobs, we do not have the luxury of dedicating 100% of our time to our studies. I realize that I am generalizing and speaking for others, but I am pretty sure most of my classmates would agree.

A few of the Web 2.0 tools stood out to me. I will absolutely use my Bloglines account, Technorati to keep track of blogs and editorials, my Zoho account, and my LibraryThing account. These are the sites and accounts that I will probably use the most in the near future. After putting so much work into this blog, I plan on keeping it updated with information related to 2.0 tools.

I am now familiar with several Web tools that I would otherwise not have explored on my own. Perhaps I would have inadvertently stumbled upon them during an information search or something like that, but this course forces you to use these tools for a purpose. The neat thing about the course is that completing the exercises is pretty fun, and you can't really say that about most coursework. I wish I could, but I just can't - with this blog being an exception.

Finally, here's a sentence that sums up the course for me: A cool method of learning how to use Web 2.0 tools without repetition and monotony getting in the way.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

#22 - Week 9 - Is the Future of Print in Trouble? The Story of E-Books

Well, no. This is a topic that I have researched in the recent past for a previous class, and in my (hopefully) informed opinion, I think print material is fairly safe. I researched the Amazon Kindle, an e-reading device that is slowly but surely gaining in sales and popularity. It is an absolutely awesome tool, but there are too many people like me who just like to have actual, tangible books. Call us old-fashioned, but that's the way we like our reading material.

This does not mean that e-books and audio books are not really cool innovations. I visited some of the free e-book websites, and the material available at the click of a mouse is pretty amazing. I specifically enjoyed exploring LibriVox's website. I found a short story by Kurt Vonnegut that I hadn't read before called 2BR02B. I listened to it, and it was an above average short story. I always find that short stories are hit-or-miss. Anyway, LibriVox is different in that it encourages users to volunteer to read and record the dialogue of the available books and/or stories. In the story that I listened to, five different readers contributed to the recording. That is pretty cool because it takes the monotony out of listening to one voice for the entire duration of the reading.

I was so impressed with LibriVox that I added the RSS feed to my BlogLines account. It will alert my account when there is a new reading added to the website.

#21 - Week 9 - Podcasting

I must admit that I wasn't exactly sure of the definition of a podcast. I pretty much picked up the general idea from context clues, but if I listened to one, I probably couldn't have told you that I did. I realize that I have listened to hundreds of podcasts over the last few years, namely the "LATEST NEWS" podcasts on my Internet provider's home page. I've also listened to podcasts on my favorite sports websites (,,, etc).

I checked out and to locate a few podcasts that I could add to my Bloglines account. Once I re-consulted the directions (after some trial and error) for adding the RSS feeds, I added two podcasts to my account. One is educational, while the other is definitely informative, but only for a sports fan. The first podcast is called EscapePod, which is dedicated to science fiction writing and reviews. Out of any genre, science fiction is my favorite, so I wanted to add this podcast so that I can receive updates on the latest science fiction works hitting the stores. The second podcast is titled Pardon the Interruption, which is a daily show on ESPN that I often miss because I am still at work when it airs. Now I can always check it out whenever I want, even if I have to work late.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

#20 - Week 9 - YouTube

Aaaaaahhhhh......YouTube. What a great innovation. I have wasted many an hour clicking on a specific video and then clicking on any video even remotely related at that video. YouTube has that Amazon thing going - "If you like this, you'll probably like this." YouTube doesn't exactly word it like that, but you know what I mean. More often than not, they are absolutely right - I do like the related videos that they suggest. That's how I get lost on YouTube.

Even though YouTube can be extremely useless (but fun), it can also be used as a learning tool, as long as the user is pushed in the right direction. There is a virtually endless number of instructional and/or educational videos on basically any topic or subject. Navigating around YouTube is really easy - I like the basic search feature of the site.

As far as specific videos go, I usually try to find music videos that I can't normally see on music video channels, or I look for soccer related chanting and singing. Aside from the Philadelphia Union, which begins playing May 2010, my favorite soccer team is Liverpool FC. The fans are (usually) pretty boisterous, and I enjoy watching videos of them singing on the famous Spion Kop. Although there are a lot of songs and chants to choose from, my favorite is a pretty simple one that isn't sung as often as it once was, but is still classic. It's title is "We Won It Five Times." If you type that phrase into the search engine, there are many clips of it.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

#19 - Week 8 - LibraryThing

LibraryThing is probably the easiest tool to navigate that we have been introduced to this semester. I have searched for certain books from time to time and have stumbled on the LibraryThing website. However, I never thought about creating an account and went on my merry way. I think I should have considered exploring the site more thoroughly. It is very easy to set up, navigate, and the option of tag searching lets a user narrow down the amount of information that he or she wants to choose from or sort through. I added several books that could be used in conjunction with my lesson plan. It took about fifteen minutes to determine if the books were relevant to the lesson and catalog them. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Note: I'm sorry, Dr. Farmer, but I am not sure how to create a link to the above webpage. I have been searching for a while now, but all the information that I found explained what a link is, but not how to link a webpage. If you respond to this, can you please give me a pointer or two on linking the webpage? I know it's not difficult, but I just can't get it right. Thanks.

I also completed a second WebQuest lesson plan that involves more web-based activities. It is posted on the class wiki. I am not looking for a different grade or anything like that - I just thought I should, and that it will help me out in the long run if we have any other assignments related to the lesson plan.