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Vermont Tech Advocates Assistive Technology for All
"The introduction to WYNN took just minutes, and the student left feeling confident. This story is repeated over and over throughout each semester. WYNN helps our students overcome test anxiety and increase their test scores; it's just a fact!" exclaims Ms. Barrett.
Dorothy Barrett, Writing & Communication Center Tutor at Vermont Technical College (VTC), explains, "We believe that everyone can benefit from Universal Design for Learning (UDL), and this is best provided with assistive technology. Therefore, we do not target any one population at our school for this type of help. Our goal is to help everyone to learn."
Ms. Barrett went on to say that it has been her observation that because today's students are using computers more and more, they have become accustomed to seeing text on a screen. She noted that the students often say they prefer screen text to hard copy. She further explained that many of their students are aural learners who appreciate hearing text spoken from a textbook, the Web, or even an e-mail message. So the quest was to build an array of tools that would meet the needs of their student population.
During the search for appropriate tools, Eileen Haddon, of the Vermont Assistive Technology Project, introduced WYNN to the VTC staff. Similar programs were also researched by the staff, but it was decided that WYNN would be the best choice for their students. Since the VTC Writing Center’s goal is to provide effective tools that can be put to use quickly, Ms. Barrett was elated with the choice. She stated, "The students at this college have a heavy workload. We want to help them cope with it, not add to their burden! While WYNN is a robust program, it is easy to learn. Our students like that. Time is precious here."
How Do VTC Students Utilize WYNN?
Ms. Barrett explained that a number of students take tests in the Writing Center using WYNN.
"More and more of our instructors have concluded that just as learning styles differ, so do test-taking styles and not just for students with documented disabilities."
The staff scans tests and encourages their students to sign up for a test-taking time and station. Ms. Barrett has been polling students after they complete a test to gather feedback about WYNN's value during the testing process. Here is some of what the polling revealed:
- Some students like to enlarge the print size so that they can focus on one question at a time.
- Some students find that a certain color background makes reading easier.
- In some courses, teachers allow the use of class notes during a test, and some students benefit from having questions read over and over as they pore through their notes.
- A few ignore the screen altogether (they also have the test in hard copy) and concentrate on having WYNN repeat the questions and answers.
- All are thrilled with WYNN's ability to quickly adjust a document's font size, line spacing, and background color.
- Everyone feels that having the material read aloud to them is a huge factor in attaining a better grade on the test.
Ms. Barrett says that the majority of the students state that they like seeing the test on the computer screen. Both students and teachers feel that WYNN's tools are stress reducers, especially in high stress situations such as test taking.
Independent Writing with WYNN
As we all know, proofreading can be a daunting process. It is common for students to skip over errors when reading their own material for corrections. The students at VTC are finding that WYNN helps them to edit their own writing. Their document appears on the screen, and a voice other than their "inner voice" reads to them.
"That's a powerful combination," says Ms. Barrett. "All writers benefit from having someone else read their work aloud, and WYNN does it so well!"
The staff has observed that:
- WYNN's reading allows the student to hear many of their often-skipped errors, such as incorrect punctuation, word choice errors, and incorrect sentence structure.
- Students find the reading features easy to control.
- Edits can be made quickly.
Some of the instructors were so impressed with the qualitative difference of their student's writing that they now tell their classes that they must go to the Writing Center to use WYNN to revise their first draft.
Professor Hughes, who teaches business law, small business management, and marketing, is a huge fan of WYNN. He knows that his subjects can be difficult and wants to give his students every opportunity for success. Therefore, he has familiarized himself with WYNN's tools. He takes the time to tell his students about WYNN, and he explains how WYNN can be tailored to meet an individual's needs. When Professor Hughes knows a student has a grasp of the material, but test scores do not reflect this knowledge, he will send the student to the Writing Center for any future testing. He is happy to say that he has seen tremendous improvement with some students scoring as many as 10 to 20 additional points on a test.
Clay Edwards, a senior majoring in Construction Practice & Management, takes his business tests in the Writing Center. He is due to graduate in May, but may continue his education, pursuing another degree in Business or Sustainability. He recently made this observation about using WYNN, "When I hear the computer's voice read a question, it's like the professor is speaking. It brings me back to that moment in class when the professor said, 'Now this will be on the test.' When I just read a question to myself it doesn't click like that."
Ms. Barrett has a new student who finds it hard to focus on hard copy text. He learns best by hearing his instructors speak. Test situations are especially stressful. He reads the material over and over but still struggles. The student had heard electronic reading before, but it wasn't until he heard WYNN read that he became encouraged, "Wow, that's much better. The voice sounds so real!"
When Ms. Barrett showed him how he could quickly change the background color and enlarge the font size to isolate a test question, he said, "I know that will help."
"The introduction to WYNN took just minutes, and the student left feeling confident. This story is repeated over and over throughout each semester. WYNN can help all of our students overcome test anxiety and increase their test scores; it's just a fact!" exclaims Ms. Barrett.
A Commentary on Assistive Technology at VTC from Ms. Barrett
Dawn Carleton, creator and current director of our VTC's Writing Center, has always been firmly committed to the use of assistive technology (AT). Because of Ms. Carleton's dedication, our program at VTC has always been in the forefront of assistive technology. During the 15 years that our Writing Center has been in operation, we have continually done our homework researching for innovative technologies that will enable our students to become more productive and self-confident.
Before we learned about electronic reading, we read tests and entire textbooks to students here at VTC. That was difficult, to say the least, for everyone involved. Assistive technology, including WYNN, brainstorming and speech recognition software, has changed forever the way we assist students. Now we have tools that allow our students to be in control. That's so important for success and self esteem.
One of our new freshmen was trained in several AT programs, including WYNN. He later had to write a composition here at VTC about life before assistive technology and life with it. Here is part of what he wrote:
Before learning about assistive technology options, someone had to read to me. When someone was reading a book to me, it tended to be slow and frustrating. The reading was slow, requiring many hours and starting and stopping until the next day. So depending on people to help me did not help me become independent. That all changed when I came to college and discovered AT.
Thank you, Ms. Barrett for sharing this story with our readers. It is wonderful to see that the students and staff of VTC share the vision that products providing assistive technology, with Universal Design for Learning, are for everyone. Vermont Technical College is certainly emulating the profound thoughts of Don Knezek, CEO, International Society for Technology in Education:
"Technology is rapidly changing the way we think, learn and work, and it's vitally important that students have the resources they need to develop skills for the 21st century."
Congratulations to everyone at Vermont Technical College for a job well done!
Tip of the Month
Occasionally, there are students who will type unacceptable words into a WYNN document. We have developed a new pronunciation dictionary file to rectify this particular situation. When this new, updated file is installed in your WYNN files, the most common unacceptable words now read as "bleep!"
Take a look at the simple directions for installing the pronunciation dictionary file. If you would like to have this new file e-mailed to you, please send your request to WYNNing Word.
Keep an Eye on the News
Since our story this month has centered on assistive technology at the postsecondary level, we thought it might be helpful to offer a few Web sites on this topic.
LD Online offers an in-depth look at what a learning disabled student must consider when applying for college. It includes such useful topics as how to choose the appropriate college and how to obtain financial aid.
AccessIt, the Web site for The National Center on Accessible Information Technology in Education, discusses the legal aspects of making Web sites accessible for individuals with disabilities in postsecondary education programs.
DO-IT, Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology, serves to increase the participation of individuals with disabilities in challenging academic programs and careers. It promotes the use of computer and networking technologies to increase independence, productivity, and participation in education and employment.
If you might be interested in a career in Assistive Technology, take a look at rehabtool. It gives information about different educational opportunities in AT.
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About Freedom Scientific LSG
Freedom Scientific, Learning Systems Group provides products that are acclaimed for
their easy-to-use interface, innovative technology, and flexible
but powerful features. Designed by educational experts to enhance
the learning process for struggling students, WYNN provides reading
and writing solutions. Freedom Scientific LSG also created TestTalker,
which provides test-taking preparations and worksheet completion.
To find out more about our products, please visit us at www.freedomscientific.com/lsg.