iAccessibility

I read this post http://behindthecurtain.us/2010/06/12/my-first-week-with-the-iphone/comment-page-1/#comment-9947 by Austin Seraphin last week. I wanted to blog about it at the time, but my preparations for work in Prague prevented me from doing that. I did comment on Austin’s blog at the time though:

Thank you for sharing this.

I am a sighted iPhone user and reported upon these functions when they were introduced on the 3GS. I’d thought they were tremendous. To read your commentary of actual use and to understand more deeply, the pleasure these functions give has been enlightening.

Thank you.

I also noted that there were many others commenting who like me were very impressed with his post. So thank you Austin once more, for that food for thought.

Any regular readers may remember that I’d blogged about the iPhone 3GS’s voice over function back in January https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2010/01/04/iphone-3gs-accessibility/. In that post, I cited another blind user’s view of the then new iPhone accessibility functions. http://www.nillabyte.com/blog.php?b=280 Since January there has been an upgrade to both the phone and the operating system. What’s more, there has been a new and very popular device launch and the iPad is now amongst us and several of the updated features are available on that too.

IOS4 provides new and extended accessibility features.

Which means that the 3GS’s capabilities are improved – with the addition of (for example):

* Touch Typing – here, the user just draws their finger across the keyboard to hear each letter read out. Once the letter needed is found, the user simply lifts his or her finger to select it.

* Bluetooth wireless braille displays are supported too. Just pair up any one of 30 devices, choose one of the 25 supplied Braille language directories and off you go!

And not all improvements are for those with sight impairments or blindness. The deaf or hearing impaired can also be helped by using features such as:

* Face Time – which provides better access for the deaf with the new ability to communicate by phone using sign language

* Optional mono-audio – which if hearing is limited in one ear, can route both right and left channels into both earbuds

See http://www.apple.com/iphone/features/accessibility.html and http://www.apple.com/accessibility/iphone/vision.html for much more.

But these in-built features are not the sum of what iPhones can do to help learning become inclusive. There are many Applications [Apps] that do similar, sterling work.

A selection of these:

* SpeakIt http://appshopper.com/utilities/say-it (£1.19) is a great way of vocalising text on the iPhone. Cut and Paste (or type) text into the window and it will read it back to you in one of several voices. The resulting file can be emailed!

* iConverse http://www.converseapp.com/ (£5.99) ‘iConverse is an educational tool designed for young children and individuals with communicative disabilities, and also toddler-aged children who have yet to master language.’ At it’s simplest you upload a photo, annotate it and the software reads out the annotation.

* Google Voicehttp://www.google.com/mobile/google-mobile-app/ (free) simply click the microphone icon and speak your search term. No fiddly spelling and pretty accurate.

* Soundnotehttp://soundnote.com/ (£2.99) is an iPad App. It is a note pad. However, the killer feature is that it also records audio. Lots of audio. So, a learner (lets say a dyslexic learner) can make brief notes as he or she listens to the speaker (teacher?) whilst recording the entire class. The recording can then be saved.

What are you using? How are you using it?

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Just Czeching

This week Sharon and I have been in Prague, staying at the Movenpick Hotel.

The hotel is a little way out of the main city but easily accessible by tram and metro. It is constructed in two parts; one building on top of the hill and another at the bottom, they are joined by a funicular railway! The upper building gives magnificent views across the city and it was here that we held our project meetings and final conference.

We’ve been in Prague on behalf of our friend Khawar Iqbal and her company Teaching and Learning Challenges (TLC). I’d contributed to and was working on the final ILMAE (Innovative Learning Methods in Adult Education) project conference, which took place on Friday. Please see: http://www.ilmae.eu/.

Sharon and I both contributed to the development of the UK module and helped to deliver it in Wetherby this spring. Partners from Spain, Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic were all involved in the project and were all therefore affected by the giant Icelandic ash cloud which erupted right at the end of the UK module delivery in April. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8623534.stm. Their journeys home are amongst the most interesting ash-cloud-tales I’ve heard and they should be congratulated for their perseverance.

However, back to our sojourn in Prague.

We arrived a day earlier than necessary because flights on the ‘right’ day were more expensive than an extra night in the hotel and also because the available timings for the ‘right’ day would have meant us arriving very late at night. This meant that we had our first day in Prague to ourselves and just for once, the weather was beautiful. We had been to Prague before, on a day trip we’d made to the city whilst staying in the south of the Czech Republic at Nové Hrady, close to Ceské Budejovice in 2006. But we’d not been impressed with the city at that time. Several factors contributed to our previous dislike: the tourists, the cost of food and drink, the rain etc. but this week we’ve been privileged to enjoy the city much more. Even now though, after all these years of its great role in European history, the city isn’t finished! There are all sorts of building work going on here; some is renovation, some is brand new and some is just maintenance – it’s a busy place.

Whilst recognising our own culpability, I have to say that the greatest drawback to Prague is the number of tourists. They are everywhere, and always in great numbers. They flock to all of the tourist hot spots by the coach load; a plethora of languages led by umbrella waving (there are variations of this such as red hanky on a stick!) ‘Guides’. During our first day there Sharon and I managed to avoid the bulk of all this and had some pleasant moments sitting quietly in busy places watching the mayhem take place. The one downside to this trip is that my camera, a Panasonic Lumix TZ6, broke. The screen, which is also the viewfinder, is not working and I cannot therefore see what it is that I’m photographing. So that’s a trip back to Costco I need to make!


On Wednesday evening the project partners began to assemble at the hotel and we were treated to our first of three forays into Czech cuisine. Actually, none of these were particularly impressive. The first was the best; I had a really nice steak but which was just a little well done for me (not what I’d asked for). Our second evening meal was poor, but that was my fault. I’d ordered something that looked a little more adventurous than everyone else and it wasn’t a successful choice. The third meal at a beautiful, well-positioned location just beneath the Castle was OK but there was something missing. I’m not sure what that was but they were either trying too hard (some choices were huge portions) or feeling the pinch (some choices were tiny portions). Nevertheless, throughout the week, at each venue, the beer was fine. As it should be in Czech!

During Thursday and Friday I worked with the project teams to finalise the conference preparations and then delivered a short presentation at the conference itself. This amused me greatly because although everyone in the audience was a competent English speaker (teachers and students from the Czech Republic and those accompanying project partners), I was the only native English speaker there – and I started by apologising for my accent :-).

Sharon had spent all day Thursday and Friday morning with those students and teachers accompanying the project partners. They REALLY did ‘do’ Prague. Sharon’s photographs show things both on as well as off the tourist trail. Their investigations helped when, after our final dinner together, we accompanied the Germans and the Spaniards on a night time walk around Prague Castle.

At night it presents an entirely different (and well lit) view of the cathedral, the palace and the city itself. And there are no tourists, which is best of all! By now we’d also managed to master the tram system and became experts at hoping on an off as necessary to get where we wanted.

On Saturday morning we joined the four Germans and the four Spaniards on another trip into the city. More than half the group hadn’t made this trip earlier because of the meetings and so one, so it was a good time to socialise. It was also good to be accompanied by Edith, who is an art historian. She was able to identify and explain the many different architectures we saw along the way.

That’s pretty much it. It’s been an interesting week and we’re just a little sad to be travelling home to an uncertain future [I wrote this at Frankfurt Airport]. Self-employment brings its ups and downs, but the coming months are looking pretty bleak right now. I know that I’m not the only one in this situation as many of my friends and colleagues are in the same boat, but I enjoy what I do and I know I do it well: I don’t want to lose that. We’re hoping to be part of a future EU project but even if we’re lucky enough to secure that one (and it is by no means certain that the bid will be accepted) it will be the middle of next year before it kicks in.

Uncertain times.

Oceans Apart

Guest Post

Regular readers will be aware that I have raised the subject of the ‘AmericaniZation‘ of our language before. E.g. https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2009/11/16/americanization/. There’s also a tendency towards misunderstanding between our cultures: e.g. https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2010/05/19/people-are-rude/ which was written after several years of trans-Atlantic comments on a YouTube posting.

Roger Elmore [rogerelmore24@gmail.com] has kindly offered a considered response to the matter. We would both welcome your comments to this special Guest Post.

Oceans Apart: American and British English and the Importance of Knowing the Difference

Whether we like it or not, English is a fractured language, and the deepest fault line is the Atlantic Ocean. As any American who has visited England knows, we Americans speak a completely different language than our English brethren do.

Of course, America’s relentless cultural imperialism has served in many ways to dilute the distinctiveness of British English, much to the chagrin of many residing in the UK. Matthew Engle, in a Daily Mail article published earlier this year, made his disappointment about America’s invading Americanisms clear, and reader responses demonstrated resounding agreement.

Although we could argue all day long about which English is superior, we Americans must acknowledge and respect the fact that American English isn’t the only one in existence. In our increasingly globaliz(s?)ed world, we should become more familiar with the differences in language before either engaging in business with UK partners, creating software programs that may be consumed by Britons, or simply going on holiday to England.

Engel does concede in his article that language usage inevitably expands and contracts, but our American cultural hegemony has expanded to a degree that is unfair. This is especially true of software and online or mobile applications. Engel notes:

“We have to be realistic: languages grow. The success of English comes from its adaptability and the British have been borrowing words from America for at least two centuries…But the process gathered speed with the arrival of cinema and television in the 20th Century. And in the 21st it seems unstoppable. The U.S.-dominated computer industry, with its ‘licenses’, ‘colors’ and ‘favorites’ is one culprit. That ties in with mobile phones that keep ‘dialing’ numbers that are always ‘busy'”

To American ears, Engel’s grievances may sound more like the grumblings of a language snob, but we can’t forget that being ignorant of the differences between American and British usage of English can have very real consequences for certain people. For example, eLearning students in the UK, especially those with learning disabilities like dyslexia, are unfairly marginalized when they must use American software that requires learners to spell words in American English or that uses phrases and expressions with which an English learner would be unfamiliar.

For Americans who would like to become better acquainted with British usage, grammar, and spelling, there are various sources on the Internet from which to find out more. Wikipedia gives a fairly comprehensive overview, and an additional Engel article notes more Americanisms that have “snuck” into British usage.

Above all, if both Americans and Britons alike educate themselves about the differences–not just in language usage but in terms of culture, too–between us, we can avoid misunderstandings and celebrate what makes our common but diverse mother tongue so unique.

By-line:

This guest post is contributed by Roger Elmore, who writes on the topics of hotel management degree. He welcomes your comments at his email Id: rogerelmore24@gmail.com.

The Shroppie Fly

It has not been easy getting back into the swing of work related things this year. There is not much new work around but I still have some residual work with the RSC-YH and RSC-SE. I did have some dates in my diary, but catching people during the first two weeks of September to arrange other meeting dates has been (is) difficult. So my diary now is made up of preparation for gig dates, meeting people to try and generate work dates and phoning-up to organise meetings and gigs dates.

The preparation dates are OK, because I give myself time to ‘prepare’ and find it hugely enjoyable because as I consider new ways to deliver something (or just to update) I’m also learning. The meeting people dates are frustrating because nothing comes from them immediately, or they get cancelled. Phoning-up days are similarly frustrating (as I say, early September is not the best time for doing this) and tend to end up with a batch of emails having to be sent.

Still, since we got back from the USA http://dsugdenholidays.wordpress.com (July 31st – August 26th) we’ve managed to resist slipping into a boring routine. Last weekend we went looking for another car to replace Sharon’s clapped out Subaru. For me, this is a tedious trail of agencies that never seem to have the model you’ve researched and wanted. Auto Trader is especially frustrating because by the time you ring them to see if the car is still there – it’s gone. We eventually found a Renault Megane Saloon, which seemed to fit the bill (3 years old and only 12,500 miles). So, we came away to do the research – which proved to be positive. However, our plan to swap Sharon’s car may have to be changed to replacing my car or not buying it at all – for reasons I can’t go into now but will explain in good time.

The previous weekend we spent in Chirk with Karen and Dave. That was a pleasant change. I love Wales and the border country around Karen is particularly nice. Having said that, we spend most of our time in Shropshire checking out the canal system around Audlem. This is an especially nice part of Shropshire, where history becomes a relaxing walk along the towpath. Karen’s son Andrew, his wife Ange and baby daughter accompanied us on our walk and during our meal at The Shroppie Fly alongside the towpath in Audlem.

I’ve also made two visits to Wetherby recently, for discussions about my trip to Prague next week. This visit follows the workshop we delivered in Wetherby during the week that the volcanic ash cloud erupted. Many of the delegates (project partners) were greatly delayed by their cloud and had to lay out extra expenses just to get home. We also met this team in Vienna in May. https://eduvel.wordpress.com/?s=Vienna In Prague Sharon and I will represent Khawar and TLC at the climax of this project.

Strategic decisions

I’m not attending ALT-C this year for pretty much the same reasons that I often ‘don’t go’.  It’s also a lot of money to pay out at this time, when the income stream looks bleakish. Luckily, I have a fair bit of residual work (work that is either paid for or wraps up the odd contract) during September so I have enough to occupy me anyway, without having to traipse off to Nottingham.

One of the main reasons I’m not going is that I went last year and last year’s visit reminded me of why I don’t need to attend ALT-C every year. On the plus side, there is a lot of networking which is for me the main benefit of attending and number one reason TO go. But, apart from the odd break-through, the sessions seemed to be pretty much updates to what was said the year before or extracts from someone’s Doctoral Thesis process being delivered to sympathetic audiences. There will often be the outcomes of projects too, but as the submission date is way back in winter, many of these (given the nature of emerging technologies) are out of date by the time ALT-C attendees get to hear them.

This does not mean that any of this is has no value, it definitely has great value and to those attending (in the main) any one session could be the spark that ignites a change in their teaching and learning practice.

However, despite the fact that many of those attending and delivering sessions are THE experts in their field, gurus even; I’m not altogether sure that the ‘talk’ is being translated into ‘action’ in the field. Certainly not universally.

Not in F.E. anyway.

Over the last five years my role has taken me into many colleges of further education (F.E.) and allowed me to meet many more practitioners at a variety of events and workshops. During those years, practice HAS changed as more and more practitioners become aware of the difference well thought out and delivered, pedagogically based e-Learning can make. But as I’ve stated, this is not universal.


Last week I asked the Twittersphere the following question:

“Why do strategic decisions made by college SMT rarely make their way down to the troops to be coordinated? In fact do troops ever get a say?”
It received one reply:
“..coz what the top wants is often very different from what the bottom needs? And Nope.”

Why is that so true? Whatever happened to effective communication?

A number of things prompted my question. For example, the institutional rollout of a new operating system must surely be a strategic decision. Surely it is not one that is made by any one party. Therefore, if strategically dictated, proper information, advice and guidance must have been set in place. One assumes (hopes?) so.  I wonder how often the strategy includes pre-installation information to key stakeholders such as departmental managers and course leaders? And how much effort is made to inform them of the consequences (unusable ‘specialist’ software originally supplied with ‘project’ money or development, similar software needing updates). Where this information is supplied, how much support does the stakeholder get?

And (this is probably the crux of my post), how much thought is given to the strategic development of effective delivery via technology. During these straightened times, when institutions could save money by implementing well thought out, pedagogically based blended learning solutions – how much thought has been given to an appropriate staff development strategy? I suspect that many teaching colleagues will have been told that they must have their year planners and induction materials on the VLE – job done.

But the job isn’t done and every year, this is underlined at conferences like ALT-C. Yet …

Despite everything, I suspect that I will be watching ALT-C events via Twitter and checking out any recommendations from trusted friends. I will not be following via Twitterfall though!