Supporting all ESOL learners with accessible technology

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This is the very last webinar of the year and to celebrate the huge amount of stuff that we  have looked at in these past six months Franca Marchese,from Barnet and Southgate college,told us how she has been inspired through the webinars to use various tools which included the popular Vocaroo,QR Codes and mobile technologies,Poll everywhere as well as the British council Nexus material.We were also wondering what type of tools would we like to talk about in future webinars so we did a quick poll and the most popular answer seemed to be creative tools, as well as the learning platform Edmodo.There seems to be a bit of teacher experimenting going on amongst our webinar participants with Edmodo so hopefully we will hear more about that in a future webinar.

However,the focus in this month’s webinar was using accessibility tools with ESOL learners and we had the incredibly knowledgeable Alistair Mcnaught from Techdis. Alistair started with text to speech tools such as the built in one in Word for windows called ‘Speak’.Which was a bit of a surprise to me! Text to speech can be such a powerful tool for ESOL learners as the types of problems they may have with accessing English text are actually quite similar for a dyslexic person; such as fluency in reading or being able to grasp meaning rapidly from a text. Other great text to speech tools are Balabolka, that saves texts as Mp3 files as well as Orato that can work from a memory stick.Orato has some really nice functions; it can highlight the text that you have chosen in your preferred font, style and colour.Furthermore,it will highlight each word as it is being read helping to reinforce spelling as well as pronunciation.Best of all these tools are free yet they can only really work well if the quality of the voices are good so Techdis have developed some high quality voices which are free to download for all post-16 providers. If you want to listen to these Techdisc voices,called Jess and Jack,click here and you will also be able to compare them to the standard robotic voices we tend to get.
We then looked at another free tool called Dicom portable which is a word prediction tool that creates a drop down list of words once you start typing. A lesson idea could be taking the words generated by DiCom and then learners can categorize them according to whether they are adjectives, nouns or verbs.Next,some referencing tools; Simple English wikipedia does not only work as a more accessible wiki reference resource but learners are able to create their own entry page, so this could be the basis of a task based project that is both collaborative and creative. The output would be seen by a real audience which could be a real incentive for learners to create something of value.

Another interesting tool is the search engine Deeper web powered by Google – I think this has so much potential for ESOL learners.If you want to search a term,for instance I put in ‘traditional English food’, it creates a word cloud with keywords so learners can use these to really build up their lexis and then there is also the option of clicking on phrases which in turn creates some common adjective and noun collocations; great for preparing a writing task.

We were back to Alistair again who showed us that learning preferences for learners with accessible needs is for any other media but text and though text obviously has its place in the classroom it is probably a good idea to try and incorporate other media much more for all learners in general.So the Discover Jisc project was set up to help practitioners source multimedia and other resources. For example the MediaHub, has some great videos that can be used for educational purposes and are so much better than using random internet videos, as you can see all relevant source and copyright information.There are also a lot of links to repositories,content source collections and more.However, part of the Discover Jisc project was not only to tell people about all this content but also to explore ways in which these technologies can be used.Therefore, in the teaching techniques section lesson examples on presenting, researching, group work and more are given.The main point of these examples, Alistair was saying, is to inspire teachers from all curriculum areas by looking at how technology can offer such fantastic pedagogical opportunities.One of the examples that I thought was really great and that I have already blogged about before, is the one on a local history group. This lesson explores the local area’s past by using an augmented reality app called bombsite,that shows where bombs had landed during the Blitz,as well as Google maps and Google earth. At this point one of the participants commented how she liked the idea of using Google earth with learners.Google earth is definitely one of those fantastic resource that could be used for all sorts of things;practising directions,describing your local area,talking about your town and comparing it to where you live now.Hopefully we will hear more about using Google earth as well as some other Jisc resources in the future.

So that was certainly a chock-ful webinar as we packed it all in in 50 minutes but to really get the full lowdown and find out more here are the recording and resources to this and all other webinars.

Shared resources document. Click here to see and share any ideas about using technology for inclusive learning