SPEAKQ - Tech Learning

SPEAKQ

SpeakQ plugs into WordQ and adds simple speech recognition. Conventional speech-recognition systems are designed primarily as a productivity tool for persons who have no trouble writing (and dictating) or as an alternative hands-free access tool for those with physical disabilities. WordQ/SpeakQ is for those who can type but have trouble reading and writing in the first place. Price: SpeakQ 1.4 Plug-in software, $99 (requires preinstallation of WordQ 2 or higher, $199) Category: speech recognition
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Put to the Test: PRODUCT: CO:WRITER 6 FROM DON JOHNSTON

Co:Writer 6 enables students who struggle with writing and spelling to work at their own pace. The latest version teams with a companion application, like a word processor or Web browser, to help users build and write correct sentences.PROS: Flexibility and support for guided independent work are key features of this latest version. The word window is always active and displays on top of the companion program’s window, so it’s easy to see recommended words as you compose an email or blog or write a document in your word processor. Students having difficulty with written words can receive audio feedback, because the program optionally reads word choices and completed sentences. Co:Writer will also read aloud menus and dialogbox contents. In addition to three main dictionary options, there are dozens of topic dictionaries from which to choose. Several video tutorials introduce new users to the product.CONS: Unfortunately, most districts will find the application too expensive to install on every school computer. Instead, they will reserve access to students with special needs or IEP/504 plans, thus reinforcing the divide between students receiving mainstream education and children who have trouble accessing the general curriculum. This outcome, it should be noted, is not a fault of the program per se.OVERALL EVALUATION: Co:Writer 6’s strength lies in its ability to create a writing environment tailored to individual users’ needs. Struggling readers and writers both young and old and individuals with poor or illegible handwriting, developmental delays, physical disabilities, and learning challenges can use its word-prediction power to become better writers. While it falls into the category of assistive technology, it’s flexible enough to meet the needs of all students.www.donjohnston.comRetail price: Single licenses start at $325; network unlimited site licenses, $1900/volume discounts.—Carol Holzberg

INTEL CLASSMATE PC

The Classmate PC is the latest version of the netbook designed specifically for K-12 use. The new model combines a compact netbook with a user-friendly tablet, making this product ideal for school 1:1 programs. The most dramatic upgrade is the convertible aspect: Rotate the display 180 degrees and fold. The netbook is now a fully functional tablet with touch-screen capabilities. The screen also automatically adjusts from portrait to landscape modes.PROS: The new hardware design features and software offerings show considerable thought and consideration for the student-user experience. Most impressive were the swivel screen, which turns the PC into a tablet; the Blue Dolphin interface, which brings the learning tools right to the student without their having to wrestle with Windows; and the Webcam, which works in both tablet and clamshell mode. The handle and rugged casing should give teachers comfort in handing this machine over to children.CONS: The student reviewer had a hard time figuring out how turn the device on at first (lower-left-hand-side switch). The touch screen is more difficult to use for those who are used to a “feather touch” screen. Intel developers explained that the “palm-resistant” technology makes it possible for students to write in applications using the tablet mode. Depending on the application, this can be either a hassle or a feature. The problems were mostly solved when using the included stylus or fingernail. Note to developers: Get a tether on that stylus!OVERALL IMPRESSION: An impressive upgrade of an already strong product. Switching the device from clamshell to tablet and back again is more than a novelty. The design gives the Classmate much greater versatility as a learning tool.www.intel.com Price: $200–$500 (price set by OEMs depending on configuration, etc.)—Kevin and Nora Hogan

READING ASSISTANT

The Reading Assistant readingintervention software combines advanced speech-recognition technology with scientifically based interventions to help elementaryand secondary-school students strengthen their reading fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.Price: $11,300 per siteCategory: reading

SMART NOTEBOOK EXPRESS (WWW.SMARTTECH.COM)

The beta version of SMART Notebook Express software is a lightweight Web-based application that lets anyone, anywhere download, edit, and share files created in SMART Notebook software. SMART Notebook Express enables educators who do not have SMART Notebook software installed on their computers to access and customize SMART Notebook content for their teaching needs. SMART Notebook Express incorporates popular features of SMART Notebook software, including the textediting tool, the pen tool, single-object selection, move and delete, basic Adobe Flash support, and the option of adding a page.Price: free Category: presentation

PRODUCT: TEXTHELP SYSTEMS FLUENCY TUTOR

Fluency Tutor is an online software solution for students developing, and teachers assessing, oral reading fluency. The product incorporates passages that align to MetaMetrics Lexile Framework for Reading and includes tools for practicing, assessing, and measuring fluency. Students listen to passages being read aloud with textto- speech voices and practice their own reading. When ready, they record assessments for teachers to listen to and mark. Several graphical reports are available to show students’ progress. PROS: The software allows teachers to select exercises of the right difficulty for each pupil and to record his or her progress. Teachers can evaluate the fluency errors made, words correct per minute, and level of prosody (expression of reading) for every student. The system is also available to teachers and students at home. CONS: To be truly effective, the product requires complete buy-in from all reading teachers. A school must also have enough computers available for students to practice and take assessments. OVERALL EVALUATION: Every school should have a program like this Fluency Tutor to help students learn to read. This one is as good as, or better than, most I have seen.www.texthelp.comRetail price: Starting at $2,245 per school, first year; $745, each year after. Discounts available for multi-year purchase.—Joe Huber

GRADECAM (WWW.GRADECAM.COM)

This image-recognition software, paired with an inexpensive Web or document camera, delivers a low-cost software alternative to expensive OMR scanning machines. GradeCam instantly grades multiple-choice tests and automatically records the scores in a teacher’s existing electronic grade book. GradeCam allows teachers to enter scores for all student work—graded tests, quizzes, and credit/no credit assignments, for example—by swiping papers under a camera instead of entering the data by hand. GradeCam forms can be printed from the software and reproduced, and may be filled in with any pen or pencil. Price: $3/student for school license; $2/student for district license Category: assessment

Product: Learning.Com’s Digital Learning Environment

Learning.com’s Digital Learning Environment is an online curriculum management tool that coordinates lesson plans to national and some state curriculum guides. Teachers have the ability to share their best lesson plans with other educators, and can interact with students via online journal lessons (interactive web pages). Users can import media for outside resources such as teacher tube, and the program encourages teachers to relate lesson plans to curriculum guidelines as they are being written. Lessons are stored on companies’ servers, eliminating the need for local installations.PROS: The software is an excellent value, since anyone who currently uses a Learning.com product can access it free of charge. This is one of the easiest to use curriculum management tools available. It includes a comprehensive feature set that is robust enough to get the job done, especially for elementary schools. With a crisp and clean user interface, anyone who can use a word processing program can use the Digital Learning Environment. Sharing lesson plans among teachers makes it easy to collaborate with co-workers. CONS: To reach a larger audience, the product needs to be coordinated to more state curriculum guidelines.OVERALL EVALUATION: Schools will benefit from a software tool like Digital Learning Environment, a product that boosts collaboration between teachers and allows for easy student-teacher interaction via interactive web pages.www.learning.comRetail price: Free to current Learning.com customers.—Joe Huber

mimio Interactive in NC

PINE VALLEY ELEMENTARY SCHOOL Wilmington, NC; serving 560 K-5 studentsType Of Whiteboard: mimio (mimio Interactive: $549), www.mimio.comWhy whiteboards?“We had funding to catch up with other schools technologically, and learned through talking with them that whiteboards let you pull in from outside sources and use the Internet,” says second-grade teacher Tara Jarman.We chose these whiteboards because ...Jarman, who could buy only one board per grade, liked mimio’s affordability. The teachers needed to share boards, and Jarman found the mimios easily transferable between classes.What do you like about the whiteboards?Jarman has several students with ADD and learning disabilities. “Students love coming up to the board and being involved in the lessons. It is colorful and exciting, even for the kids who can’t read.”What don’t you like about the whiteboards?“That’s a hard question. There are a few more tools they could add to the gallery, but there is already a lot of stuff.”Have teachers integrated the whiteboards successfully?“They have. I have a monthly meeting with mimio teachers where we share ideas. We share lessons on our wiki, too. Teachers—even the older ones—tell me all the time what they’re doing.”Any advice for schools that are considering whiteboards?Jarman recommends using the training and resources the company provides. “Install the software on your home computer, so if you think of a lesson at night or on the weekend, you can work on it.”

NETSUPPORT DNA HELPDESK

www.netsupportdna.com Price: $1750 for 3 operatorsWhen teachers have a problem with a piece of equipment or software, they can use the NetSupport DNA Helpdesk online program to submit a trouble ticket to tech support. DNA Helpdesk notifies the tech via e-mail that he or she has a ticket. The tech can use the program to check the machine’s latest hardware and software configuration and to see a report of other tickets coming in, all of which can aid in troubleshooting, reduce downtime, and cut costs.PROS: Helpdesk gives an up-to-the minute inventory of the hardware and software installed on a machine reporting a trouble ticket. The program can set customizable rules so that specific kinds of tickets are delivered to specific techs. Helpdesk can be accessed from handheld devices; the pages on handhelds are easy to read, and the tech can add customizable fields. User data can be imported from third-party sources. Ticket escalation can be automated, and reports can be viewed online.CONS: None.OVERALL EVALUATION: While this is similar to other help-desk products on the market, three things make it unique and exceptional: the up-to-date hardware and software inventory, full handheld functionality, and a customizable knowledge base.