Tuesday, June 10, 2008

CALLing SickDog

I was at a meeting of the Scottish ICT Development Group today. (That is SICTDG - pronounced Sick Dog!) As always there were parts that were more relevant to me than others but almost all that was discussed was interesting.

158/366: Victoria Quay
Originally uploaded by DavidDMuir
SICTDG tours the country and pretty much every meeting is in a different Local Authority but Friday was a bit different because we met in the Scottish Government building situated at Victoria Quay in Leith, Edinburgh.

I hope to say something about the item I presented on the future of Computing as a discrete subject in schools later but here I am going to talk about some of the work of CALL Scotland. (CALL has recently changed the words in its acronym... I think - it now stands for Communication Aids for Language and Learning.)

First off, they provide a number of freebies. For example, they have developed a screen reader called WordTalk. It is a free plug-in for Microsoft Word (Windoze only I think), which can speak the text of the document highlighting stuff as it reads. And as I said at the start of this paragraph... it's free. The second freebie is a high quality Scottish accented computer voice known as Heather which, did I mention this already, can be downloaded free. It should work with any program that is SAPI 5 compliant.

Next, an interesting piece of news. CALL reported a change in the CLA licence that most (all?) schools have which allows them to make copies of material for educational purposes. For some time, the CLA licence has allowed greater freedom to copy for people who are "visually impaired" so that the material can be adapted and made accessible. However, recently the relevant phrase in the licence has been extended to "visually impaired or otherwise disabled". The CALL centre's understanding is that this will cover people with a range of print disabilities, for example dyslexia. It will allow schools to scan textbooks etc. and make them available to pupils electronically. CALL are setting up a national database that will enable schools to share scanned material so that many pupils can get the benefit of the legally scanned and electronically available texts without every school going through the pain of converting the text to electronic form.

Finally, and on a similar theme, CALL told us about how they have worked with the SQA to produce Adapted Digital Exams. This means that candidates who would have needed scribes or readers to help them access the exams, can now use screen readers to listen to the paper, or change the background colour of the paper, or enter their answers electronically - depending on their needs. CALL's research shows that the pupils benefit greatly from this approach because of the sense of independence that it gives them and that it can save schools time and money because they do not have the problems of arranging rooms and employing extra invigilators and scribes, etc. I think it is brilliant that such a facility exists but I must admit, I'd like to see the provision extended to every child that wants to make use of it, not just those with print disabilities.

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ICTMaverick said...

A Scottish accented voice is a real move forward. We have a number of ICT training resources with audio assistance...in an American accent (staff find it off putting).

Have heard a rumour that the lifts in the Scottish Parliament speak with Sean Connery's voice.

David said...

I've yet to here Heather in action but I've heard folk saying that it is good.