Monthly Archives: November 2014

The Accessibility Features of the Mac OSX Operating System

Students with documented physical, sensory and cognitive challenges are well-served by laws promoting technology use by individuals with disabilities (The Technology-Related Assistance Act of 1988).  However, many of the once-pricey technologies utilized by individuals with disabilities now come as standard features on all computers.  This post explores a number of the accessibility features available on the Mac OSX operating system and identifies how individuals with disabilities might use these technologies to enhance their computer and Internet experience.

Accessibility Features for the Blind and Visually Impaired

VoiceOver is a program whose text-to-voice functionality gives blind users access to written content.   More than just a simple screen reader, VoiceOver tells the user where they are on the screen, even allowing them to click boxes and other content through specified key strokes.  With VoiceOver, blind users can access the Internet with the same level of functionality as sighted users.  As a screen reader, VoiceOver may also prove useful to individuals with cognitive disabilities, ELL students and students with dyslexia.  While learning the VoiceOver key commands is not easy (or straightforward), the advantages it confers to blind users is well worth the time spent learning how to navigate with it.  Key commands can be circumvented (perhaps most notably for individuals lacking fine motor skills) in favor of using a virtual control called the rotor.  To use the rotor, users simply rotate two fingers around the mousepad, much like turning a dial.  This also takes a bit of time getting used to, but once mastered, web browsing (as well as other actions) can be executed more efficiently than through key commands.

For visually impaired users, Zoom allows for easy magnification of the screen (up to 20 times) either through the use of keyboard shortcuts or via scroll gestures, providing access to content without the use of scanners or closed-circuit television magnification systems.  Mac also comes standard with contrast options for individuals for whom changing the color contrast would improve readability.

Accessibility for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired

FaceTime, a video chat service, allows deaf users to read the lips (and facial expressions) of the person they are communicating with and iMessage is a texting service that comes standard with all Macs.  Closed captioning, available on movies, videos and podcasts, allows deaf users to read the spoken content they would otherwise miss.  Finally, deaf users can enable Screen Flash to let them know when an app needs their attention: instead of making a noise, the screen “flashes,” providing a visual cue.

Accessibility for the Physically Impaired

Physically impaired individuals often interact with computers through the use of joysticks or switches (Roblyer & Doering, 2013, p. 408).  Switch Control on Max OSX allows users to create their own custom panels and keyboards, thus enabling each user to create a “tailored” interface. Adaptive devices (such as joysticks and switches) also work within this system.  The Slow Key and Sticky Key options allow users to customize the keyboard to accommodate for their different needs and an Onscreen Keyboard is available for those who find it easier to type with a pointer, rather than via the physical keyboard.   Finally, Dictation is a voice-to-text technology that allows users to speak into their computer (rather than typing), a technology beneficial to individuals with significant physical impairments.  Setting the Dictation feature up is relatively simple, and using it within Microsoft Word is straightforward (once enabled, it is available in the “Edit” tab).  Dictation’s accuracy, however, is far from perfect: a spoken paragraph resulted in one to two errors per sentence.

In summary, computer manufacturers are keenly interested in making their products accessible to all users.  Taking a moment to familiarize yourself with the standard accessibility features on your classroom computers will not only benefit your disabled students–these technologies may also enhance learning for your struggling students as well.

References

Roblyer, M.D. & Doering, A.H.  (2013). Integrating educational technology into teaching (6th ed.). Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.

The Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988, Pub. L.100-407. (1988). Retrieved from http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/STATUTE-102/pdf/STATUTE-102-Pg1044.pdf

Obstacles and Solutions to Integrating Technology into the Science Classroom

Teachers of all disciplines face unique challenges and obstacles to integrating technology into their curricula.  This post focuses on two significant obstacles to integrating technology into science classrooms: the mandate to focus on more hands-on learning in science classes and the call for more authentic, inquiry-based activities that mimic the science process.

The first major obstacle faced by science teachers interested in incorporating more technology into their classrooms is the directive to integrate more authentic, hands-on experiments and activities into their curricula (Roblyer & Doering, p. 318).  Both the National Science Teachers Association (2007) and the American Chemical Society (2011) caution against using virtual labs and simulations in K-12 classrooms as substitutes for hands-on experiences in which students touch and manipulate chemicals and physical objects.  One solution would be to avoid an “all-or-nothing” approach to virtual labs and simulations, integrating only those that that are impossible to perform (either because of cost or safety) in K-12 classrooms.  By doing so, students could benefit from the “virtual experience” of using particle colliders and cloning mice, while still building real-life laboratory skills neutralizing acids and bases or growing crystals of salt in physical classrooms.

A second major challenge facing science teachers today is the emphasis on authentic, inquiry-based approaches in the classroom that reflect science as it is practiced by professionals in the field (Roblyer & Doering, p. 317).  At first glance, such an approach might appear to argue against the large-scale integration of technology into classrooms in favor of more hands-on approaches that get students “doing” science on a daily basis.  However, technology has shown remarkable value in allowing students to access, collect, communicate, analyze and share data much more efficiently than through traditional means (Roblyer & Doering, p. 317).  In addition to allowing students to access and process more data in less time, technology is allowing students to participate in actual scientific studies (such as GLOBE and Project FeederWatch) by collecting and uploading data specific to their local environments, often with the same technologies used by scientists in the field.  Thus, when used judiciously, technology can help, rather than hinder, students’ ability to think and act like practicing scientists.

References

American Chemical Society. (2011). Importance of hands-on laboratory activities. Public Policy Statement 2011-2014. Retrieved from: http://www.acs.org/content/dam/acsorg/policy/publicpolicies/invest/computersimulations/2011-04-importance-of-hands-on-laboratory-activities.pdf

National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). (2007). The NSTA Position statement: The integral role of laboratory investigations in science instruction. Retrieved from: http://www.nsta.org/about/positions/laboratory.aspx

Roblyer, M.D. & Doering, A.H.  (2013). Integrating educational technology into teaching (6th ed.). Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.

Relative Advantages of Using Technology to Enhance Learning in Science

With technology’s growing presence in K-12 classrooms, many teachers are asking, “How can I best use technology to enhance the learning experience of my students?”  This post focuses specifically on how technology can make science education more engaging, relevant and authentic for students.  M. Roblyer and A. Doering argue that technology possesses relative advantages over other teaching tools in several key areas, most notably: engaging and supporting students in authentic scientific investigation, supporting science skills and concept learning and accessing science information and tools (Roblyer & Doering, p. 320).

Authentic Investigation

Global scientific initiatives such as Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE), Project FeederWatch and Journey North are engaging students by involving them in authentic, ongoing investigations across the planet.  Students participate in all aspects of the science process, from asking questions, collecting data to analyzing results.  Students in the GLOBE Program use data loggers to record information about their local environment before uploading it to the GLOBE database, becoming collaborators in a world-wide scientific investigation.  This process not only provides science students with a greater sense of purpose than when conducting typical labs, it teaches them to think and act like practicing scientists via an authentic learning experience.

Support of Skills and Concept Learning

Inquiry-based learning has never been easier to implement than now: interactive simulations such as those produced by the University of Colorado and virtual labs like those found at the ChemCollective provide students with opportunities to derive scientific principles, rather than simply study them.  Complex systems can be poked and prodded and cause-and-effect relationships can be established.  Teachers can use animations to teach abstract concepts, or assign auto-graded practice problems to students who need more practice.  Science games make learning fun and help students hone their problem-solving skills.  In short, technology has moved well beyond drill-and-practice capability, ushering thousands of teachers into the role of learning guide, rather than content-deliverer.

Accessing Information and Tools

The Internet provides contemporary students and teachers with information and learning tools that are transforming science classrooms across the globe.  Up-to-the-minute scientific data is available for student use, such as that found at NOAA, NASA and NIH; rather than working with hypothetical numbers, students now calculate, graph and analyze data with real-world relevance.   Teachers and students can follow the latest advancements in scientific research as they happen via RSS readers like Feedly, fostering discussion and providing tangible examples to theoretical concepts learned in school.  Finally, Teachers can access thousands of lesson plans within seconds, no longer confined by their lack of experience, time or resources.

References

Roblyer, M.D. & Doering, A.H.  (2013). Integrating educational technology into teaching (6th ed.). Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.