Trends in Ed: 01.19.2011 – High-Tech Help

| January 19, 2011

Do you think you can survive completing an email, report, or business letter without the help of spell check?

This New York Times article sums up some of the most popular assistive technologies on the market. These tools are not limited to users with learning disabilities, but also extremely popular among general learners.

However, Michael L. Kamil, a consulting professor at the Stanford University School of Education and an expert on adolescent literacy and technology, warns that not every product is going to be useful, so before you spend $100 for a smart pen or $300 for an electronic learner, you should consult with the professional who has evaluated your learning ability.

Below is some of the most popular assistive technology we use today:


Students with severe reading disabilities may benefit from computer programs that can scan words and “read” them aloud via synthesized voices, some of which sound uncannily human. One is the Intel Reader, a device that can plug into a laptop for reading on-screen texts and also takes snapshots of, say, a newspaper page to be read aloud. Another is the ReadingPen Advanced, a pen-shaped scanner that glides over printed words and pronounces them through a built-in speaker.

But the granddaddy of text-to-speech products is the Kurzweil Reader, which was designed by the inventor Ray Kurzweil in 1976 as a device for the blind. The latest version, a software package called the Kurzweil 3000, is stocked with features like word-by-word highlighting and foreign-language dictionaries.


“Students often have trouble getting thoughts down on paper by pen or typing,” says Pauline Auld, a senior learning specialist for the Calgary Board of Education. Voice-recognition software allows them to talk into a microphone and immediately see their words on screen. The Dragon line of products are leaders in this industry.


Can software help organize thoughts, improve writing skills and keep track of tasks? A few programs, with visual prompts and templates, promise something close.

A product called Inspiration uses colored graphics — thought bubbles and hub-and-spoke diagrams — to help students when brainstorming and developing outlines for writing projects.