Friday, June 22, 2012

Can eReaders Help Students with Disabilities?

One way to adapt and accommodate 21st century students with IEPs or 504 could be through the use of supportive technology that links to the online learning environment.  While the research is still largely inconclusive on whether using supportive technology has greater benefits than traditional models (these technologies are fairly new), it is still a possible path to allow for equal outcomes in online environments. 

The article “Schools Test E-Reader Devices with Dyslexic Students” states, “Students can change the size of the text on the screen and the speed of the voice that reads the text aloud.” This may allow students to individualize their content for greater accessibility and understanding. In a study in Taiwan, “Participants regarded [the eReader] as a user-friendly, supportive, and interesting reading environment compared to traditional textbooks.”  They continue that “it was observed that the [eReader] seemed to motivate them better.”

Several e-readers have read aloud features for visually impaired students, but they do lack the voice-navigation for menu options, which creates new challenges.  “The Kindle isn’t the only one inaccessible to blind students […] the Barnes & Noble NOOK reader and the Sony Reader also were ill-equipped to help,” Evan Minsker reports in the article “Colleges Face Obstacles with e-Reader Technology for Disabled Students.”  The iPad is fully assessable, and other eBook readers are searching for ways to become voice-over compliant as federal law requires college and universities to only support fully-adaptive technology and devices (“Inaccessible e-Readers May Run Afoul of the Law, Feds Warn Colleges”).

To assist with federal law compliance, here is a link to the accessibility research of the most popular eReaders, which includes a chart based on various disabilities.

One application that may be of interest is the NOOK Study.  It is a free, downloadable computer program for Mac or Windows from Barnes & Noble.  It is also has fully assessable text-to-speech and keyboard navigation for students who need help.  They even have a chart that describes exactly what features are supported.  Students can also upload whatever materials (as long as they can be converted to PDFs) they want into the NOOK Study, including PowerPoints, notes, and teacher-created content.  This may help instructors if they have specific versions of the content for specific students. The text can then be enlarged, defined, tagged, highlighted, annotated, and printed.  These mark-ups can also be exported, so students could submit them directly to their instructor (NOOKStudy Features).  This could also maintain anonymity, since all notes would go only to faculty. It also integrates into whichever LMS the campus is using, including BlackBoard and Moodle, allowing instructors to link to specific chapters or sections of the readings.

While there are many e-tech solutions and each has its advantages and disadvantages, more exploration is needed to meet individual students' needs.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Creative Commons & Copyright

The web often isn’t protected as well against copyright infringement due to the specific limitations of the USA’s copyright laws; it doesn’t protect program code, for example. Also, the traditional copyright is often all or nothing, which prevents copryright owners from allowing certain activities. It can sometimes place restrictions on the creator if they aren’t the owner of the copyright. If you write a textbook using Apple’s Author, you retain the copyright, but if you publish it in the Author native format (iBooks) you can’t distribute it anywhere but the iBookstore per Apple’s restrictions.

Other copyright restrictions include the Classroom Use Exemptions, which teachers often break (one teacher copied 11 pages). There are workshops for teachers to learn about fair usage, and Temple University demonstrated that they were effective. The University of Rhode Island launched an entire website to inform teachers. It also gets tricky because the exemption is for face-to-face teaching, which excludes online classrooms; “even simultaneous distance learning interactions,” according to the University of Minnesota. This article, “Copyright for Higher Education,” states that copyrighted resources are “to be used in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction in the course of face-to-face teaching activities” and that “it is a regular part of the instructional activities and it is directly related to the teaching content.” This means that you cannot use online photos for your PowerPoint unless they are specific to instruction. You cannot use videos (on the last day of class) or music (while students work on their painting) unless they are specific to instruction.

In order to combat these problems, several countries have adopted Creative Commons’ Licenses. They allow for the protection of online work, and the owner can pick the level at which they would like to share their materials. Here is a great video that explains the purpose of the CC. Besides protecting the work, the options of a CC license can “give people the right to share, use, and even build upon the work that you’ve created” (Creative Commons). Educause has a great explanation of CCLs. They conclude that the “considerable effort spent examining copyrights and pursuing permissions can be redirected toward teaching. In addition, eliminating restrictions on the use of intellectual property encourages new thinking among faculty about how to incorporate a wide range of resources in their teaching.” Hobbs and Donnelly’s article “Toward a Pedagogy of Fair Use for Multimedia Composition,” discusses similar themes using research methods.

The CC BY is the most open of the licenses and allow for the most permission, including letting others “distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation” (Creative Commons). To see all of the licenses click here. I like the CC BY the best because it allows for the greatest dissemination. The CC BY-NC is good if you are afraid that your work will be sold, but there are many definitions of “Non-Commercial” according to the research. I want others to be able to use materials I create, to build on the wealth of knowledge, and hopefully have a few people edit them to make them better or to suit their individual students’ needs. I also hope using a CC BY license will encourage others to do the same, so that teachers will have an easier time finding and using educational materials for their offline or online classrooms.