Text-to-Speech vs. Human Audio Debate

Book with headphonesTime was, if you wanted/needed to have textbooks and other educational materials in “audio” format, you needed to acquire a recording made by a human narrator reading the materials. Indeed, the earliest forms of these recordings were developed in the late 1940 as a service known as, Recordings for the Blind (later renamed Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic, and now known as Learning Ally), started in New York City.  Learning Ally is currently the largest supplier of human-narrated audio texts and educational materials.

As information technology has advanced greatly in the last 20 years, so too has the quality of “audio” transformations made by text-to-speech software (TTS). One might assume therefore that the need for audio recordings from human narrators would no longer be needed. Perhaps.

A recent blog article from Christine Jones at Bookshare/Benetech (full disclosure – Bookshare is a supplier of digital content that can be read by TTS) notes that the differences between TTS and human narration have become less and may soon “be negligible.”

Perhaps what is more important from Ms. Jones’ article is the emphasis that not only are audio and digital/TTS options essential for many readers with print disabilities, ALL students, even those without disabilities, can benefit from the use of these audio methods when used in conjunction with printed materials.

The decision on whether a student should use human-narrated audio content or digital content read with TTS is probably best done on an individual basis. However, it is quite likely that having both options available will continue to be a good thing for some time to come.

Read Christine Jones complete article, Reframing the Text-to-Speech vs. Human Audio Debate: Both Make Reading Easier…

Read Why Audiobooks? from Learning Ally…

 

Photo credit: Image licensed through Creative Commons by Jeff Golden 

Bookshare Offers K-12 Textbooks in Accessible Formats

The following message comes from Bookshare..

Yes, Bookshare DOES Have Many of the Textbooks Your Students Need!

Bookshare logoMany people view Bookshare’s large collection of ebooks primarily as a source of classroom reading or pleasure reading books, such as novels, biographies, and the like. Indeed, Bookshare does offer a rich selection of these materials. However, did you know that our library also includes more than 25,000 textbooks?

The largest single source of Bookshare’s textbooks is the National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC), a federal repository of K-12 textbooks in accessible formats established by the 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The NIMAC contains more than 50,000 files supplied by publishers in compliance with IDEA, and Bookshare is one of the largest distributors of NIMAC-sourced titles. In fact, Bookshare already contains nearly 11,000 book files from the NIMAC, and Bookshare members benefited from more than 30,000 downloads of these titles in the past twelve months. To get an idea of the breadth of materials available in the NIMAC, check out these special collections of NIMAC-sourced titles already available in Bookshare.

Generally, NIMAC-sourced textbooks contain images, are of high quality, and offer an excellent user experience. So why doesn’t Bookshare have all 50,000+ files that are in the NIMAC? Because NIMAC-sourced books are added to Bookshare at the request of educators serving qualified students. If a textbook is in the NIMAC but not already available on Bookshare, educators can submit a book request, and the Bookshare Team will work with the NIMAC and/or the appropriate state agency to obtain the title, convert it into a student-ready format, and make the title available in the collection. Any representative of a U.S. K-12 public or charter school with an organizational Bookshare account can share Bookshare’s NIMAC books with their qualified K-12 students — those who both qualify for Bookshare AND have IEPs. (Students do not need an IEP to access most Bookshare books, but they do need one to obtain NIMAC-sourced books. This is because the NIMAC was created by IDEA specifically to serve students served in special education.) These students can then log in to their Bookshare accounts to access and read the books. For more information on how Bookshare and the NIMAC work together, check out this list of frequently asked questions.

Bookshare Has Even More Textbooks for Students with Reading Barriers

In addition to NIMAC-sourced books, Bookshare offers thousands of textbooks that are available to any member. Some of these may be alternative versions of books we obtained from the NIMAC, but we have purchased, chopped, scanned, and proofread them to make them available to students who do not have IEPs. Some may be textbooks we obtained from publishers. In addition, Bookshare offers a selection of “freely available” textbooks, which are available under Creative Commons licenses or are in the public domain and therefore available to anyone, not just Bookshare members. (So in most cases, even non-members will be able to download them or select “Read Now” next to the titles to open them in Bookshare Web Reader.) Many of these “freely available” titles are “open educational resources” (OER) published by organizations interested in making educational content available to all.

Educators Can Access Reading Lists Created by U.S. School Districts

Bookshare’s Collection Development team has collaborated with several large districts around the country to create lists of the textbooks they commonly use – including math, English language arts, and science – to make them easier to assign to their students. These lists are made available on Bookshare so that all educators can access and share them. They can either subscribe to or copy these lists and assign them to their students, or assign specific books from the lists using Bookshare’s new Assign & Read feature. Feel free to mine the lists for textbooks and instructional materials that will benefit your students.

Students Can Read Textbooks on Multiple Devices

Most importantly, Bookshare members can read their textbooks in the ways that work for them, just as they can all other books in the collection. They can read them on computers, Chromebooks, tablets, mobile devices and refreshable Braille displays. They can even download every textbook as a Microsoft Word document, with all of the flexibility that format offers.

At Bookshare, we believe that when students have all the learning materials they need (even their textbooks!) in formats that work for them, they can succeed in school and become more engaged and confident learners.

 

AEM Pilot Has Launched

From NC-AEM

The AEM Pilot Has Launched!

We’re excited to announce the launch of the AEM Pilot. If you’re in a school district that has work to do to improve the accessibility of materials and technologies provided to learners with disabilities, enlist a crew and board the AEM Pilot! It’s a secure, interactive, web-based tool aligned with the AEM Quality Indicators with Critical Components for K-12.

The AEM Pilot:

  • Provides guidance on establishing a high-functioning cross-disciplinary district team
  • Scaffolds individual and group knowledge about AEM and related technologies
  • Presents guiding questions for critical self-reflection
  • Offers exemplars of effective practices already in use by states and districts
  • Recommends specific actions for getting started with improving the provision of AEM in your district
  • Guides your district’s team in conducting self-assessments in relation to the AEM Quality Indicators
  • Saves your team’s data for progress monitoring purposes
  • Generates reports that include self-ratings, goals, and action steps.

Let the AEM Pilot navigate a crew of accessibility heroes in your district.

Use this link for more information about the AEM Pilot… 

 

Free webinar from Texthelp

This free webinar is sponsored by New England chapter of the International Society for Technology in Education (New England ISTE).

Save Time and Streamline Your Writing Instruction Using WriQⓇ

September 17, 2019
7:00 PM ET

Individuals who participate in this webinar will gain knowledge on how WriQ, a writing assessment tool from Texthelp, can enhance student writing during the edit and revision stages of the writing process.

Session participants will explore WriQ and learn how it supplies teachers with instant information regarding a student’s spelling, punctuation, and grammar, and how it supplies new metrics, including a measure of engagement and vocabulary maturity age directly within Google Docs. Teachers can also use the embedded rubrics in WriQ to evaluate knowledge, purpose, voice, meaning, and organization, providing a comprehensive review of the students’ work for teacher evaluation. In addition, teachers can use WriQ to evaluate a students ’final product.

As a whole, the information collected by WriQ helps teachers efficiently dialogue with students, and allows students to gain a better understanding of their writing progress.

Presenters

Mark Schwartz and Gary Rubin

Use this link for more information and to pre-register for this event…

AEM for Language Arts and Math

The following free webinar comes from edWeb

Quality Instructional Materials for Language Arts and Math: New SETDA K12 Database

Wednesday, July 17, 2019 @ 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm EDT

Presented by Christine Fox, Deputy Executive Director, SETDA; and Alan Griffin, Curriculum Content Specialist, Utah State Board of Education

Program Description

Looking for vetted instructional materials? This edWebinar will launch SETDA’s latest resource, the State K12 Instructional Materials Database, an online tool to access state-reviewed, full course instructional materials for secondary language arts and math.

Multiple states provide a formal review process to review instructional materials and publish the reviewed materials, now you can access all of those published materials via one online database and access the state review processes. Plus, hear how Utah will leverage this tool and learn how the state engages stakeholders in the instructional materials review process to support district decision making. The edWebinar will include the opportunity for dialogue and sharing.

This presentation will be of interest to administrators, instructional material coordinators, policy makers, curriculum directors, IT staff, and instructional coaches. There will be time to get your questions answered after the presentation.

Use this link for more information and to register for this event…

 

Microsoft Inclusive Classroom Offerings

Microsoft logoA recently blog article from Microsoft describes several application and new features to their MS-Office 365 package that may assist students with disabilities. The list includes information about:

  • Immersive Reader
  • Microsoft Forms
  • Microsoft Whiteboard
  • Minecraft: Educational Edition

Information about Inclusive Math, Writing and Communications are also included.

Use this link to read Inclusive Classroom round up for Microsoft Education…

Free e-book info

The following information comes from Jennifer Maurer, School Library Consultant for the State Library of Oregon. Jen posted this on the edWeb.net School Library Network discussion board. Great information, thank you Jen!

electronic books on various devicesMost free eBooks that come with no restrictions are those that are available in the public domain, which means they are no longer under copyright or they never were. If they never were under copyright, they are often self published. Most new to new-ish and copyrighted materials are not available for free, or they come with some restrictions. Even with digital versions of books, the authors, illustrators, and publishers need to get paid by someone in order to make a living or profit.

As … noted, Epic! offers free eBooks to elementary students. The catch is that to access the books at home, parents have to pay to subscribe.

You can check what your local public library offers. In that case, the public library subscribes on behalf of its patrons. Popular platforms include OverDrive (with the Libby app), Cloud Library, and for kids only, some offer Tumblebooks

International Children’s Digital Library  is a grant-funded project that makes children’s books in many languages available online at no cost.

Book Bub is a site that tracks temporary deals for free or inexpensive ebooks. You can sign up to receive a daily email. I’m pretty sure there’s a category for children’s books.

And for classics and other public domain offerings, there are many sites, including Project Gutenberg and Open Library (which has some copyrighted material; not sure how that is okay). This article lists other sites…

By the way, Sync offers 2 free audiobooks per week to download during the summer. The books are aimed at ages 13 and over.

New EdTech Publications Emphasize Inclusion

From State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) and National Center for Learning Disabilities:

June 7, 2019 – Eleven national organizations have come together to outline a new vision for education technology in a series of publications that explore conception, design, procurement, use, and continuous improvement of ed tech initiatives.

The collaborative publications build off a central report, “Inclusive Technology in a 21st Century Learning System”, by Ace Parsi, Director of Innovation at the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD). The report lays out a new inclusive vision for educational technology and considerations to ensure technology closes educational, economic, and civic opportunity gaps for individuals with disabilities.

The complimentary local and state/national briefs were developed in collaboration between the following organizations:

  • Policy and Research Organizations:  The American Institute for Research, Digital Promise, the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, and The Learning Accelerator
  • Associations Representing Local Policy Leaders: CoSN – Consortium for School Networking, the School Superintendent Association and Association of School Business Officials International;
  • Associations Representing State Policy Makers:  National Association of State Directors of Special Education, the State Education Technology Directors Association, and the National Association of State Boards of Education;
  • National Policy and Advocacy Organizations: The Alliance for Excellent Education, the Future Ready Schools initiative, and the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

“Working together with these 10 other organizations sets a prime example of how all decision makers should be working together to ensure the needs of all learners are truly being met,” noted Lindsay Jones, CEO of the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

“These publications provide information and guidance to educational leaders to effectively leverage education technology to meet the needs of all learners, particularly those with disabilities,” said Tracy Gray, Managing Director at the American Institute for Research.

Use this link to read the entire news release and learn more about this topic..

Free Webinar: 5 Guidelines for Accessibility Heroes

National Center on Accessible Educational Materials logo

From the National Center on Accessible Educational Materials

5 Guidelines for Accessibility Heroes!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019
3:00 – 4:00 pm ET 

Presenters: Cynthia Curry and Luis Pérez, AEM Center

Purchasing Accessible Learning Materials - logoIs accessibility for learners with disabilities among the criteria you, your school, district, state, or university use when procuring educational materials and technologies? Join us for this webinar and learn five guidelines that should be a part of any procurement process. You will leave with your first action step toward making learning more accessible in your education setting. You’ll be an accessibility hero!

Unable to attend the webinar?  No worries!  A recording will be available on the webinar’s Event Page approximately one week after the event.  An announcement will be sent when the recording is available.

Use this link to register for this webinar…

National AEM Center posts “AEM and the IEP”

National Center on Accessible Educational Materials logo

In March, the National Center on Accessible Educational Materials (NC-AEM) hosted a webinar entitled, “AEM in the IEP: Where Do Accessible Materials and Technologies Fit?” Presented by Joy Zabala and Diana Carl, the 60-minute webinar detailed the seven points in the IEP development process at which AEM might reasonably be considered and documented. Participants were also provided with IEP requirements at each point and questions related to consideration of accessible materials.

This webinar has now been archived and posted, available for your viewing. The presentation slides and handout is also available for download.