Assistive Tech: Text-to-Speech
Text-to-speech is our most popular assistive technology. It is software that reads the text on screen out loud to the user. It can read any electronic text file on your computer and is primarily used by students with learning disabilities such as ADHD and dyslexia. Students with learning disabilities may have difficulties with reading, decoding, and focusing on the text. By presenting the text auditorily students can focus and follow the reading more easily. Text-to-speech can also be used by anyone who needs help focusing when they read, or to get through readings faster.
Read&Write is the text-to-speech software that we provide our students. It features a guided reading tool that allows users to better follow along with the text. Students with learning disabilities often struggle with keeping track of what line they are on and often lose their place on the page. Read&Write highlights the sentence it’s reading in yellow and each word it reads, as it’s reading it, in blue. That way students always know what is being read to them and exactly where they are on the page. Unlike simply using an audiobook, Read&Write’s guided reading adds a visual aspect to the reading. Most students with learning disabilities prefer to learn visually, so with Read&Write, you’re not just listening or reading, you’re actually watching something read to you. The combination of following along auditorily as well as visually allows for better focus, better reading compression, and better memory retention.
Students can use Read&Write to create their own MP3 files to listen to readings on the go. The can also increase the speed gradually over time to get through readings at a faster pace.
Read&Write is available as a desktop application and a Google Chrome extension. The Google Chrome extension has a free version with the text-to-speech function available.
You can check out Read&Write by visiting their website for more information.
If you have any questions or wish to learn more about assistive technology, please reach out to the Associate Director for Assistive Technology, Amrou Ibrahim
Assistive Tech: Resources Available at the Weingarten Center
To help the Penn community better understand assistive technology and the resources we have at Weingarten, we’re launching this Assistive Tech series. This first article provides an overview of what assistive technology is and how it is used by students with disabilities.
What is Assistive Technology?
In a broad sense, Assistive Technology is any device, software, or hardware that helps people with disabilities work around challenges so they can learn, communicate, and simply function better. Here at the Weingarten Center, we use assistive technology to help students with disabilities work around their weaknesses while also playing to their strengths. Most importantly, assistive technology ensures our students have equal access.
Assistive Technology Software
The most utilized assistive technology software at our center are screen readers, screen magnifiers, text-to-speech, and speech recognition.
Screen readers allow people with visual impairments to navigate computers by reading the contents of their screen out loud to them. These include: JAWS, NVDA, and Apple VoiceOver.
Screen magnifiers allow people with low vision to navigate computers by enlarging the contents of their screen. Examples include: ZoomText and Mac Zoom
Text-to-speech assists people with learning disabilities and other print disabilities by reading text out loud to them and usually has a visual guided reading feature. Examples include: Read&Write, Mac Speech, and NaturalReader. Read&Write is available through SDS and is our most popular assistive technology
Speech recognition software allows people to interface their computers though voice and speak to type. Dragon and Mac Voice Control are the two most popular speech recognition software.
Assistive Technology Hardware
The most common hardware found at the Weingarten Center are electronic magnifiers, smartpens, refreshable braille displays, and assisitive listening systems.
Electronic magnifiers magnify paper, books, and even far away objects.
Smartpens are note-taking devices that record audio as your write. They are our most popular assistive technology hardware.
Refreshable braille displays can display text from a computer or tablet by raising dots through holes in a flat surface that create braille characters.
Assistive Listening Systems are audio amplifiers that can connect to a cochlear implant bring sound directly into the ear.
If you have any questions or wish to learn more about assistive technology, please reach out to the Associate Director for Assistive Technology, Amrou Ibrahim.
Technology: Apps for Group Work Collaboration (GroupMe, Slack, GoogleDocs)
You hate it, I hate it; yet everyone assigns it: group work. Before the internet, group work consisted of wrangling everyone for their availability before finally getting together in person and just wasting away a full day when really, we know one or two people will finish the whole thing. Nowadays, thankfully, we live in the 21st century and no longer have to be bogged down with that outdated and fully infuriating methods. With technological advancement, so many apps and programs are geared towards collaboration and can be carried out remotely according to one’s own pace. In this blog post, the commonly used ones such as GroupMe, Slack, and Google Docs/Slides are covered.
GroupMe: Owned by Microsoft, GroupMe is a mobile group messaging and photo sharing app. It’s free, works on every device, and is geared towards working with multiple groups. For example, people usually have a group chat for family, friends, coworkers, clubs, etc. Here, students can create a group chat and plan when, where, and if to meet. Or simply, discuss how to divide and conquer and then casually check in for any questions, comments, or concerns. Each group member gets to decide who they want to interact in the chat on their own. For more detailed steps on how to use GroupMe, click here.
Slack: If you’re looking for a more professional and business feel, users tend to prefer Slack over GroupMe. Slack has a free version and is an app for all devices. What makes this more professional than GroupMe is that it has not only messaging capabilities but also voice, video calling, and file sharing. With that comes a search and archiving features too. “Channels” are like chat rooms and where projects are discussed. For more info on how to use Slack, click here.
Google Docs/Slides: Google Docs was created to compete with Microsoft Word and Google Slides was created to compete with Microsoft Powerpoint. What Google has on these programs is that it is all online and can be collaborative and worked on in real time. If you have a gmail account, you automatically have access to these programs as part of your Google Drive. They are free and online and just because you don’t have internet doesn’t mean you can’t stuff done either. You can see people make changes to the documents as they type it in (if you’re logged on at the same time) and also leave comments on the side for to update the team on your thoughts and feedback. Again, like the others, these tools are available across all devices. For more detailed support on Google Slides, click here and for Google Docs, click here.
For more one on one consultation on a current group project, paper, or presentation, feel free to come into Weingarten for support! How do you use these apps? Leave a comment below if you want!
Staff writer: Victoria Singh Gill
Tech Tuesday: Zotero
This Tech Tuesday we are highlighting Zotero which is a browser extension and stand-alone desktop application for Windows and MacOS. Zotero is most commonly known as a citation manager similar to EasyBib or Mendeley. While Zotero is excellent at managing citations, it is capable of so much more. This article will provide an overview of its most useful features. Future blog posts will expand on Zotero with in-depth how-to guides. I like Zotero because it is feature rich and can help students keep readings and citations well organized. Another huge perk is that Zotero is open source software. Not only is it free, but it also has a number of useful plug-ins and add-ons.
Managing Citations and Outputting References:
As mentioned, Zotero is an excellent citation manager. The base install of the desktop application comes with a variety of standard citation styles including MLA, APA, Chicago and others. Have an obscure citation style only used by a specific discipline, don’t fret, chances are you can find it in the Zotero style repository here.
Outputting in-text citations in Zotero couldn’t be easier. Select the reference or references you want a citation for, right-click and select “Create bibliography from item” choose in-text citation, your chosen style, and copy to clipboard. Then, simply past the citation where needed in your document. You can create full reference pages in much the same way. Simply choose bibliography in the output section.
Add, Organize and Manage Citations
Zotero has feature rich folder options to keep your citations organized. You can create a folder for a given class or project and then store all your citations in the folder. Adding citations is easy. If you’re using Google Scholar, you can simply download an RIS file (RefMan) using cite function in Google Scholar and open it with Zotero. Books can be added using the wand button () and then adding the ISBN for the book. Zotero will handle the rest. Using add-ons Zotero can even scan PDF’s of journal articles and collect all the citation and metadata info directly from the article. A how-to blog outlining just how to do this will be available soon.
Have a class with a heavy reading load? Zotero is great for keeping all your readings organized. Add them all to a folder for that specific class and then you can write summaries or outlines for each with the built-in note taking function.
Alternatively, or in-addition, you can also add any attachment you want to a given reference. For STEM students, this could be particularly useful if you draw diagrams in your notes and you want to keep them together with a specific reading. As mentioned, Zotero is free you can download it here. Check back soon for specific how-to guides that will expand in-depth on the various features and options Zotero has to offer.
Staff Writer: Randall Perez
Tech Tuesday: Duolingo
A great app that’s been deemed “fun and addictive” when it comes to learning a new language would be Duolingo. Here is a quick breakdown of the app:
If you have any experinces with this app, let us know your thoughts on it in the comment section below!
Staff Writer: Victoria Gill
Tech Tuesday: Coggle, A Mind Mapping App
Mind maps are a great tool for not only organizing your arguments and ideas for a paper or presentation, but also for organizing information you need to know as a way to study for an exam. Consider mind maps as a way to neatly and visually organize all the information you need or want on topics. Coggle is a free website where this can be done. Here are the benefits of using this platform:
- it’s always free
- do real-time collaboration on a project with a partner or group. Partners can comment and chat. Track changes are available (like Google Docs)
- upload PDFs or images to include in your mind map
- it’s user friendly. You don’t have to know complicated features to use it or to create stunning visual mind maps
- download the mind maps for studying later, or include in a paper, or print out for presentations
- easily share your mind map with others
Check out these sample Coggle mind maps!
For more information or practice on how to use it, come into the Weingarten Learning and Resources Center anytime!
Staff Writer: Victoria Gill
Tech Tuesday: Study with Spotify
Midterms may have come and gone, allowing you to take a moment to breathe but finals are looming near and fast approaching. With around 6 weeks left of the semester, it’s time to mentally get into “hyper-focused” mode. Although there are many techniques and strategies that assist you in keeping your concentration, listening to music can be a way to increase academic performance. Ever heard of the “Mozart effect” (Rauscher et. al, 1993)? The study conducted by researchers Rauscher et. al (1993) revealed that by listening to Mozart for around 10 minutes, subjects were able to significantly improve their spatial reasoning skills. In addition, according to other and more recent researchers, “listening to a pleasant music while performing an academic test helped students to overcome stress due to cognitive dissonance, to devote more time to more stressful and more complicated tasks and the grades were higher” (Cabanac, et. al, 2013).
Of course, you might not get beautiful sonatas to listen to while taking your exams, but this a nice strategy to use while studying. At the very least, it could help with decreasing stress levels. Spotify is a free music radio app that can be downloaded from their website for any electronic device (laptop, phone, tablet). Once it’s downloaded, create your own playlist with any type of music that you think will help you stay focused. Or you can go into the “browse” section and click on pre-ready made “Focus” playlists. Whatever your taste may be, you might find it. There are playlists titled from “Electronic Study Music” to “Epic All Nighters”. Who doesn’t want a soundtrack to their life and why not even during the times of intense academic work? Here are some of my favorites:
Fig. 1: General “Focus” playlist page. Scroll down this page within the app to find a playlist you like.
Fig. 2: The “Peaceful Piano” playlist have some of the most relaxing piano pieces for when you are working at a slower and calmer pace.
Fig. 3: The “Cello 50” playlist is a powerful collection of some of the most celebrated cello pieces. This helps me focus but also stay pumped and motivated to keep studying/writing.
Cabanac, A., Perlovsky, L., Bonniot-Cabanac, M., & Cabanc, M. (2013). Music and academic
performance. Behavioral Brain Research. Volume 256:1. Pgs. 257-260.
Rauscher, F.H., Shaw, G.L., Ky, K.N. (1993). Music and spatial task performance. Nature. Oct
Staff Writer: Victoria Gill
Tech Tuesday: Google Calendar
Ah, yes…school is starting, clubs are up and running, you’re making friends so party invites are blasting in, oh…but don’t forget, that group project is due, papers are piling up, and how did the time fly by, it’s midterms next week?! To stay on top of your schedule, it’s best to have some form of organizing your time and commitments. One way to do that is by using the free, online Google Calendar app. Since it is cloud based technology, you’re able to access and edit your calendar from any device with internet. If you already have Apple’s iCal, it can easily sync. Here are some other ways in which Google Calendar can help you be a master of time management:
1) When inputting an event, type in “#todo” and it automatically will create a To-Do list for you. When you’ve completed your task, mark the item with a big “X” in the brackets.
2) Color code your schedules to use in the all-in-one master calendar. For example: blue events could be for school, purple for personal events, red for work etc. Google Calendar also includes national holidays.
3) Share your calendar with others. Why you ask? Check out this extremely realistic scenario: you’re trying to get a project done with a group of people in your class, do you just get everyone’s email/number and text back and forth until a possible date comes up for when you’re all available? Boring! Let Google Calendar do all the heavy lifting for you so you can get more time sleeping. With Google Calendar you can share your calendar online, and then use the “Find a Time” or “Suggested Time” feature within the app and voila! Possible group meeting times will magically appear before you! Also, you can input the location on the event so everyone knows where to go.
4) This app is synced with your Gmail already so you don’t need to sign up for anything new. If you don’t always want to use this on your laptop, you also download the app onto your phone and it’ll automatically sync.
5) Email events to guests. So you’ve already set up a time and place but don’t want the other folks to forget. With Google Calendar, you can send your guests an online invite to the event (ex: study time, group work, dinner) and when they accept, it automatically gets put into their calendar as well. Seriously, everybody wins.
6) Set up when and how you get reminded for big projects, due dates, or events. If you’re the type of person that needs an official reminder, you can customize your reminders to be emailed to you. On the other hand, if you just need gentle reminders, set it up for “pop-up” notifications.
7) Lastly, the graphics are cute (for a calendar)! For instance, when putting in an event for “movies with the homies,” the background in that time slot area will have a giant bag of popcorn. Not only is that adorable, but a quick visual reminder saves time when you’re glancing at your calendar.
Staff Writer: Victoria Rodriguez
Note-Taking Strategies: APP-ARENTLY THERE’S A BETTER WAY TO DO THIS
For several semesters, in collaboration with Weigle Information Commons, the Weingarten Center has offered a workshop called “Tools Not Toys.” What we emphasize is that apps and technology are great and all, but the important thing is how you use those pushy little helpers. In this post, I’d like to share a few apps that are currently working with me. They may not impress your friends, but they are sturdy work horses that have helped me manage the constant inflow of information, appointments, and tasks that would otherwise overwhelm my composition notebook.
To start, I’d like to mention something that is not an app at all. It’s a pretty basic way to annotate your electronic course readings, but (I’ve noticed) it’s often not utilized by Penn students. If you use a Mac, take a look at the Preview application. Most likely, this is the default program that shows up whenever you open a PDF. At the top of the window, you’ll notice a pen icon, which is your very handy highlighter. You’ll also see a toolbox (#1), which has lots of interesting goodies. The thing that I recommend for students to use here is the sticky note or comment function (#2). This will let you annotate directly on the text, and then you can change the view (#3) to see all of your “highlights and notes” in the sidebar. When I was still taking courses for my doctoral program, this was an efficient way to review my readings before or during class lectures and discussions. Note for PC users: a very similar function is available in Adobe Reader.
As far as apps, it’s not revolutionary, but I currently can’t live without Evernote. During every meeting and lecture that I attend, I’m typing away in this program and tagging my notes to keep them organized. I haven’t played around with the chat or share functions much, but these seem like great features for group projects and collaborative writing. I’m also using Wunderlist as my “to-do” list. It functions like every other to-do list, but you can set due dates and reminders and even share lists with collaborators, relatives, and friends (which, in my house, is great for groceries). My colleague in Wharton Advising, Liz Sutton, recently recommended Asana (not a yoga app) for to-do lists. The added benefit of this app is that it will display your items in a weekly or monthly calendar.
Because it seems almost impossible to keep up with the newest and the coolest in the world of apps, I find the App Smart video channel on the New York Times website to be a helpful curator. In each brief episode, Kit Eaton highlights three apps under a common theme, such as “Modernize Your Meetings,” “Improve Your English,” “Smart Calendars” and “Finding Happiness.” The “Back to School” episode is particularly useful for time management and graphing calculations.
As you can see, I haven’t discovered an app that will work as a panacea for the variety of challenges that come with academic life at Penn. But maybe you have! Please join us in the comments section to share the newest, greatest, and hopefully free apps that are currently working with you.
Staff Blogger: Ryan Miller