As the storm clouds of a presentation on audiovisual innovation gather, I decided to take advantage of an opportunity to dive into some content immediately applicable to my teaching.
On the heels of a presentation on web browsers, and some fun coding exercises, Alec Couros left us with a a prompt to explore some extensions that can, and do, play a role in our teaching life.My post is going to focus, for the most part, on Read&Write, an extension whose impact has, for my perspective, been second to none for its recent impact on the classroom.
1. Some Handy Gizmos
But, to begin with, there are several handy extensions with functionality that impact my day to day web browsing that I’d like to touch on! Many of these will be familiar to you.
LastPass is, essentially, a password manager. Every one of us likely has an assortment of passwords that go far beyond our ability to recall. This is essentially a password protected vault of all your passwords (or the ones you choose to store here at least).
Benefits: What this has done, for me, is allowed me to diversify the kinds of passwords I use on the myriad of websites I use where my identity could conceivably be compromised with detrimental effect. Every single website I use to pay bills (Sasktel, Saskpower, financial, etc) now has a unique, non-nonsensical password with no pattern between them. It;s also free for the basic functionality that makes this extension/app what it is.
Cons: Well, there is potentially one pretty sweet spot of passwords to crack into. If somebody ever were to get in, they’d have access to quite a bit. LastPass trumpets their answer to these natural concerns with some compelling arguments, stating that LastPass servers don’t actually have access to your vault, encryption being down at the device level (as opposed to a central server) and allowing you to use two factor identification to make it harder to get in.
At this point, I’d argue that Adblock Plus, or some extension performing an equivalent function, to be critical for any kind of internet use. Essentially, it blocks on-line advertisements (html, video, etc)
Benefits: Trust me when I say that you don’t know how much of your computers resources are being eaten alive to peddle advertisements until you block them out. It is absolutely incredible. From a student centered perspective, it’s easy to see the value of screening our students from a barrage of advertisements as they are using their devices at school. personally, I have little patience in this regard, and firmly believe that advertising has no place in our schools.
Cons: IThere are some websites that will screen you if they detect an ad blocker at play. The ones I feel the most are news media sites, who are trying to make their way by a subscription based business model. It can be annoying sometimes, but that is the cost of my bandwidth not being eaten alive by advertisements.
There are so many of these kinds of productivity tools out there, many with educational implications. Haiming Ling offered us a handy review of Grammarly in her blog this week. Amy also reviewed Screencastify, a handy tool I used to put together a few amateur screencastes further down in this post.
Ok, so now we come to the pith and substance of my post this week:Read&Write.
This isn’t the first time I’ve taken to my blog to extol the virtues Read&Write. Ok, so Read&Write isn’t exactly a new concept. It’s not unknown either, with 10 million+ users. Honestly, I’d be leaning pretty heavily on the plus side. Since I began teaching in Regina, 6 years ago, there isn’t any other single application of any kind (physical or digital) that has impacted both my life as a Learning Resource Teacher, and more importantly, the lives of the students I support in their classrooms.
As an LRT in an Elementary school, with a caseload of over 35 Tier 3 students, the focus has always been on supporting those students with the highest need to function within their grade classrooms. After all, no matter what I do for any given student, the vast majority of their time will be spent with their classrooms and classroom teacher. Immediately, and inevitably, the focus turns to independence.
Read&Write is a pretty comprehensive tool that performs many of the functions associated with reading and writing. Functions for which, in the past, that there was once only one way to do them. You could either do it, or couldn’t. Furthermore, your ability to read and write would essentially predicate your entire access to curriculum, with only some minor deviations in content areas like physical education.
That is no longer the case. That actually began to change over a decade ago with assistive technology like Kurzweil. I’m sure it has come quite a long way since then, but they were quite a clunky experience. Their days of being a sole presence in the field of assistive technology are also long gone, with apps like Read&Write providing a much cheaper, frequently updated alternative.
The tool-bar looks like this:
For any who haven’t yet seen Read&Write in action, here are a couple quick demos of some of their more powerful features.
How to use Play and Screen-shot reader
how to use Talk and Type + Voice note (writing assistance)
This is not a new extension/application for me. While I believe it’s value is evident, I can also vouch for it personally. It has entirely changed the way we program for students with learning needs. It has provided them with easy to use tools, that other kids often find pretty cool, that pave a way for these students to access curriculum with full independence, in ways that would have been unimaginable only ten years ago.
Thanks for reading!