Trolly Dolly

Over the last few weeks I have been attending a series of JISC Advance Regional Support Centre (RSC) summer fairs on behalf of TechDis. Many readers will know that TechDis are one of JISC Advance’s advisory services promoting:

‘… inclusive practices, resources and advice for learning and teaching in UK higher education, further education & skills, and independent and specialist colleges’. From http://www.jisctechdis.ac.uk/ [downloaded 4th July 2012]

My most recent (final) two roles were in London at the RSC London ‘eFactor2012’ event, which took place in the magnificent Senate House, close to Russell Square and at Hartlepool College’s superb new build for RSC Northern. I wasn’t at my best for the London event having contracted a mild dose of man-flu earlier in the week.

However, I did manage to rustle up enough voice to talk with the many visitors to my stand.

I was there primarily to promote the newly launched ‘TechDis Voices’ and ‘TechDis Toolbox’.

As before in Glasgow, Leeds and Taunton there was great interest in both products but what was interesting here in London was the fact that the range of attendees seemed to more widely cover the F.E. and Skills sector. There was equal interest from college teachers (not just the techie types, but real teachers) to ACL and WBL representatives. Many of those I spoke to here were not aware of the potential for text-to-speech or of the free tools which might allow it to happen. ACL (adult and community learning) tutors were even more excited by the range and simplicity of Toolbox, which will hopefully help their learners to better overcome and fears of technology.

Sadly, my trip to Hartlepool was a little less successful due to the leaflets and banner being sent to the wrong address by couriers. It’s surprising how much these colourful artifacts do attract people to the stand. With just a laptop, a white tablecloth and two hastily created A4 notices, it was hard to attract attention of anyone. Some folks who had been involved in development did stop by and chat but very few others.

Did you know that folks around here are called monkey hangers?

Please see the previous two posts concerning my visits:

https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2012/06/12/jess-and-jack/

https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2012/06/16/toolbox/

… and the post by Rosemary Leadley, from which the video above is kindly loaned.

http://jiscrsclondon.wordpress.com/2012/07/03/jisc-techdis-introduce-jess-and-jack-at-e-factor-2012/

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Toolbox

I’ve just completed two more days out on the road for JISC TechDis.

It has been great to get out and meet people again this week: in Leeds on Wednesday and Taunton on Thursday. At both venues, it was good to meet old friends and colleagues and to make new acquaintances.

One of the things I’ve missed about my most recent work (2012) being mainly office based has been the lack of face-to-face human contact. There are various points of view regarding the fitness for purpose and value of online learning/collaboration and I have to say that I have argued for many of its positive aspects in the past, yet I believe that online activities can only be truly effective if there is some planned human contact as part of the process.

Being out and about and meeting people again has been great for me, I thrive on it.

I wrote last week about the new TechDis ‘Voices’ and this week I will touch upon the new ‘Toolbox’ facility. Perhaps later, when I have finished with the RSC summer fairs, I will reflect more on online distance learning and communications.

“[Toolbox] is a collection of resources which give useful hints and tips on technologies that can help individuals work smarter, quicker and more efficiently. JISC TechDis has a history of providing simple easy-to-use resources for tutors and lecturers. Here we have shifted our focus and Toolbox is aimed directly at the end users – the learners themselves.http://www.jisctechdis.ac.uk/techdis/news/detail/2012/ND2012Launch

As the above quote suggests, the Toolbox resources are aimed at learners rather than at teachers (although teachers are learners too!) When I was asked to create one small section of the site, it was suggested that I put myself in the shoes of someone who had never opened a computer before and to try and explain to that person how they might ‘Get started with Windows (7)’. That was an enlightening exercise, I can tell you because I’d never used Windows 7 at the time. I had stopped using Windows Vista in some despair and had become a Mac enthusiast. That ‘distance’ made it much easier for me to imagine the virginal adult user and hopefully, the resources I made are as acceptable and usable as those created by my fellow authors.

The Toolbox page is divided into ‘drawers’. Following the Toolbox semiotic, each drawer contains a different type of tool:

  • Using Technology: features subjects like Working in Windows, Microsoft Office, Working in Mac OSX and many more.
  • Planning and Organisation: featuring; managing your messages, finding information (amongst others).
  • Communicating: Presenting yourself, Reading tools, Writing tools (and so on).
  • Teamworking: Team planning, Team communication, Collaboration etc.
  • Different needs: Vision, Hearing, Mobility to name just a few subjects in this section.

You may well recognise some of the different voices featured in each section (drawer) – and hopefully, you will recommend this site to colleagues and friends who may find something useful amongst the many resources to be found there. Let us know what you think.

Jess and Jack

Last week I found myself in Glasgow hosting a stand on behalf of JISC TechDis at the RSC Scotland ‘Here Be Dragons‘ summer fair.

It was good to get back out on the road again and to meet friends old and new. It’s been a while since I was in Scotland to work, and therefore great to catch up with members of the RSC Scotland team.

This was the first of five RSC summer fairs I will be attending this month.

TechDis have recently launched two major new tools, which are aimed at improving the online lives of a significant range of people, not just learners. Although ‘Voices‘ can only be accessed by post 16 learners in England, ‘Toolbox‘ can be accessed via an open site. Other new tools, similarly sponsored by BIS are also planned for release in 2013 and it was my role to discuss all of these initiatives with callers at the stand.

I will concentrate this blog post on Voices.

The TechDis voices are two high-quality, youthful and modern voices (Jack and Jess) that can be used with text-to-speech (TTS) tools. Across England, staff and learners in higher education institutions and further education colleges as well as the skills, adult and lifelong learning sectors will have access to these voices.From:

Many of us will have heard the robotic voices installed on our computers and shied away from using them ourselves, but many computer users can and do benefit from text-to-speech facilities. Jack and Jess have been developed to make listening to computer generated speech that little bit easier. Go to Control Panel > Ease of Access > Ease of Access Center (in Win 7) and ‘click’ Start Narrator to hear the robotic Microsoft Mary. Previous versions of Windows and other operating systems present similarly dire voices.

Now go and download the new TechDis voices to hear what good quality voices CAN sound like.

Jack and Jess are available for both Windows and Mac machines. They work with the computers own facilities as well as freely available text-to-speech software like Balabolka and DSpeech, both of which have featured on either AccessApps or MyStudyBar.

If you’d like to know more, visit the TechDis site, or pop along and see me in Leeds [13th June], Taunton [14th June], London [27th June] and Sunderland (I think) on 3rd July. You’ll find more details on the respective JISC RSC web sites.