Educational Technology Models and Application for Assistive Technology

The field of educational technology is growing at a steady clip with new tools, apps, and services cropping up. Many of these tools are used to enhance learning and engagement in the classroom. Some facilitate project based learning or encourage easy data tracking for the teacher. As teachers are becoming more familiar with integrating technology into their classroom a window to incorporating assistive technology opens.

Currently, assistive technology is generally IEP driven and is meant to accommodate for an identified disability. These supports can range from magnifiers for visual disabilities, augmentative communication devices for the non-verbal, or text to speech for those struggling with learning disabilities. Very often however, teachers are faced with students in their classroom who for multiple reasons do not end up being identified for support nor receive the needed help. Additionally, abandonment of equipment is a significant concern within the assistive technology community. Finding the correct fit between the student, the teacher, and demands in the classroom become great hurdles to overcome despite the vested interest of all parties.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

UDL is a model evolving from the field of architecture, universal design. The most often referenced analogy is one of the ramp. Buildings originally designed with ramps not only allow access to a building for those in wheelchairs but also assist parents with strollers and delivery personnel. UDL aims to encourage curriculum planning and environmental design to create content that can be accessible to all students in the classroom. This may include having text to speech books available for all students or creating a classroom color coded organization system for notebooks and folders. Students are able to select the tools that best help them meet their learning goals. UDL is most powerful when implemented at the planning stages versus having to retrofit pre-existing curriculum. There are three main components to UDL which will be briefly reviewed given that this model is familiar to professionals in the assistive technology field. For further details be sure to visit

  • Multiple Means of Representation- Known as the recognition network, this area explores the “what” aspect of learning. It encourages providing a variety of modalities when explaining concepts.
  • Multiple Means of Expression- Known as the strategic network it represents the “how” of learning. This principle encourages a variety in how a learner can express their knowledge base.
  • Multiple Means of Engagement- Known as the affective network it represents the “why” of learning. This principle encourages looking at the learner’s motivation and desires for learning.

SAMR Model

SAMR is a model that has been developed to create a hierarchy of how technology is being integrated in the classroom. It starts with the most simplistic use of technology and graduates to more complex encouraging deep learning skills. Jonathan Brubaker had created this infographic illustrating the various SAMR levels comparing them to Starbucks offerings.

Assistive technology providers often focus on finding technology that can either serve in the Substitution or Augmentation portions of this model. If a student cannot write using pencil and paper, perhaps a portable word processor can substitute? A student is unable to read? Provide her with text to speech for reading materials. AT providers may however be in a unique position to encourage teachers to branch their pedagogy to the Modification and Redefinition segments of this model. Asking a teacher about the learning goals and outcomes of a unit or lesson may prove a more powerful question than what tasks need to be completed by the student daily. After all, successful completion of the tasks does not automatically result in learning. Supporting a teacher in redefining, might result in a scenario in which one group of students produce a video while another group produces a written report.


Reproduced by permission of the publisher

Another model currently being implemented in educational technology integration is the Technology- Pedagogy- Content model. The illustration below provides an overview of the three main segments a teacher needs to consider as well as overlapping domains. Classroom teachers need to establish competence in not only the technical use of available hardware and software but also how this technology can meet content requirements. Analysis of how pedagogically sound a technology is another pivotal role a classroom teacher takes on. When examining this model, the teacher’s level of competence in each of these areas can effect the successful integration of assistive technology for a student. A teacher who does not posses comfort in using technology nor have the skills to problem solve may be more reluctant to integrate AT tools. Likewise, if a teacher does not perceive that an AT tool meets pedagogical standard, its implementation may also falter. Supporting teachers in each of these three areas and their overlapping domains may ultimately help students with mandated assistive technology integrate this support and decrease abandonment.

Understanding the various educational pedagogy currently being applied in educational technology can help assistive technology providers in successfully supporting their students and beyond. Providers must also play a key role in demanding that many of the tools being used for the disabled population become readily available within the technology being developed for the classroom. Text to speech, word prediction (flexible spelling), speech to text, and writing with auditory feedback should not be fringe add-ons to a program. These tools often recommended should be integrated as a given. Assistive technology professionals are also uniquely qualified in understand where the gaps in learning exist for a particular learner and may better understand how content should be modified. Involvement in the development of educational tools are key especially in the area of adaptive learning technology. Many learning platforms are being developed to provide customization for learners. Although in its infancy, this adaptive technology mostly consists of moving a student up or down a hierarchy of difficulty given their response to a question. Providing better insight into how content can be modified to meet the needs of struggling learners can help improve this technology.

Speech to Text and Word Bank Writing: Google Doc Add-Ons

Add- ons are a great feature of Google Doc. They provide additional functionality through a side bar beside the document. To find and install add ons, navigate to the Add- ons dropdown menu and select Get add ons… On a recent look around I ran into two new add- ons to help support writing.

Speech Recognition

After installing the add-ons be sure to provide permissions to the microphone and press start. You can select which language to dictate in. Speech recognition works similarly to other dictation supports in accepting voice commands for periods, commas, etc. Giving it a test run, I must say I was impressed by the accuracy of the dictation. I also gave it a try in Spanish with some good results.
Check it out in action:


This add on allows a teacher to create a word bank with definitions which can be viewed to the side of the document. Using word clouds or word banks are a great way to guide reluctant writers and provide visual and memory supports for what should be included in the document.
Here is a short demo video of how Keyword works:

Two Great Timeline Web Apps

Timelines are a great and easy way to visually represent information in bite size chunks. As an example, timelines can help support struggling readers in understanding the sequence of events in a book.

Ginko App is a note taking app that uses markup for writing but can also be used to construct timelines and off shoots to the timeline. Its clean user interface makes it easy to understand and navigate through cards. As an example, here is a gingko I had started to scroll and navigate through the Common Core State Standards for ELA elementary schools.

Gingko layout for ELA CCSS

Gingko’s can either be private or public. There is a limit to how many you create for free with additional files created with a monthly membership fee (currently $4.99/ month).

Hstry is a great free tool that allows teachers to create interactive timelines. They have a user friendly tutorial that guides teachers through adding content. Timelines created are public and can be shared with others. A teacher can embed images, videos, and audio throughout the timeline. Interactive features include quizzes and feedback. Teacher accounts can create classes and add students as well as assign timelines for students.

In short, check out these tools in helping support student understanding of complex topics using a visual and interactive perspective.

iOS Add-on Keyboard with Word Prediction AND Auditory Feedback

I just ran into this new add-on keyboard and am very excited to share. Add-on keyboards are a new feature available when updating your iOS to 8. The general process of getting a keyboard involves purchasing it through the App Store. Once downloaded, you can customize settings within the app and then a user needs to activate the keyboard in the iOS system preferences (General>Keyboard). Almost all the keyboard apps I’ve seen provide very detailed information on how to go about doing this. Once everything is set up, no matter what app you are on you can call on the keyboard of your choice by tapping, holding and selecting your desired keyboard.

Now, onto the keyboard… this one is made by AssistiveWare who has been making some great accessibility software for Mac for quite some time. Their keyboard, Keeble is a pricy $14.99 as far as apps go but in my opinion is well worth it. This keyboard allows students to have the support of word prediction and auditory feedback (letter, word, and sentence) across all apps. They no longer need to stay tied to one app for writing which is huge!

In addition, to these writing supports for struggling writers, Keeble also offers a variety of touch modification options for those with fine motor delays that have a difficult time with on-screen keyboards. Options such as customizing hold duration, backspace repeat rates and select on release.

Visual supports, allow for extensive customization of colors and provides some basic keyboard layouts for the young learner. Vowels are also highlighted to help support literacy.

So far, it has been a great asset in allowing my students to produce writing on their iPads on Google Docs with the needed supports. The only con I have ran into so far is that their predictive spelling engine is not as robust as other providers of word prediction supports but does a pretty good job for most.

Co:Writer Now Supports Writing in the Cloud

As more schools are turning to cloud and subscription based solutions, another assistive technology company has developed their text prediction software to meet this model. Quotes are available for school site licenses and are an extremely affordable option to provide all students not just those with IEP’s or 504’s technology supports. This is a great tool to add to a school’s Universal Design for Learning toolbox.

Don Johnston recently released Co:Writer Universal and it offers some lovely features. When a school signs up for a site license students and teachers can create individual accounts. This account can then be used to log into the Co:Writer Universal web app , download the Chrome extension, download a PC or Mac version of Co:Writer and just announced today use Co:Writer as an iOS device.

Web App

The web app also opens as a separate window in a browser and has a very similar interface to the iOS app. Previous documents are autosaved in the home menu and can be further edited. Functions such as inserting images, text formatting, customizing the word list, and speech feedback setting are available. Another helpful feature is the topic dictionary support. If the writing is related to a book for example, you can search for a topic dictionary related to the book title and the word prediction will start including character names and other book related vocabulary. Written work can then be sent to Google Drive or Dropbox accounts.

Chrome Extension

Co:Writer extension in a Google Doc

An added benefit to this tool is that it can also be downloaded as a Chrome extension and work
directly within Google Docs or websites with text boxes to complete. I had tried using it within Slides but the performance in this app was varied. This is a great feature that is not available on other cloud based programs (see previous post here).

PC/Mac Application

Co:Writer universal can also be downloaded as a stand alone program on a Mac or PC. Many of the features discussed above are available in the program with the addition of the word cloud window. A word cloud is also available to help guide writers with recommended words to include in their writing. The words appear in a separate window but coordinate with the word prediction to have words listed.

iOS App

Just announced today, Co:Writer is also available as a free download from the app store. There is a stand alone version of Co:Writer for $20 however this does not link to the Universal account. It is important to download the Universal version of the app which works in tandem with the student’s account.

What is and why use word prediction and auditory feedback anyway?

Word prediction is often used for students who struggle with spelling and may be reluctant writers because of this difficulty. There are varying qualities of word prediction algorithms and use of “flexible spelling”. If the student types “tdy”, can the program predict “today”?

Auditory feedback can be used for students who struggle with grammar and produce writing sampled devoid of punctuation marks or omit words without noticing even if attempting to edit your work. Hearing back one’s writing helps students catch these errors. Some option for this feedback include hearing each letter typed (emergent writers), each word typed (assisting with sustained attention), or each sentenced typed. These are personal choices that a teacher and student can make to see what best benefits the writing.

Reading Vision Supports Using Chrome Extensions

The benefits to using Chrome as a browser are all the add-ons and extensions that are easy to download from the Chrome Webstore.

Color Supports

Beeline Reader is an extension that converts the text into flowing colors to increase the speed of eye tracking while reading. This also helps decrease the frequency of skipped lines which affects overall reading fluency and comprehension.

Speed Readers

These tool are used to increased reading speed but having one word presented on the screen at a time also limits the need for eye movements called saccades when reading. Some students struggle with the mechanics of moving their eyes across a page and tend to skip words or lines that affect overall comprehension.

Sprint Reader is an extension that allows a student to select text from an article or webpage and present each word individually on the screen. There are many font, sizing, and color modifications to customize the presentation. Also keyboard shortcuts can quickly stop, rewind, or modify speed as you are reading.

Spreed is another speed reading extension with similar features that allow customization of font, sizing, and speed. The benefit to this extension is that these customization options are available on the same screen as the words presented.

Text to Speech

Speak It is an extension that once installed allows the student to select text and have this text read back. The voice is a bit synthesized and does depend on the internet speed connection to function smoothly.
Select and Speak is another extension that provides text to speech supports. 

Font Modification

Clearly is one of my favorite extensions from the makers of Evernote. The extension clears away the ads and presents the text from the article in a clear and simple presentation. Users can customize the fonts spacing, sizing, and color scheme as well as highlight salient details. The article can then be clipped directly into your Evernote account. Premium subscribers can also have the text read back to them with word highlighting!

OpenDyslexic is an extension that converts most fonts presented on a webpage to the Open Dyslexic font. This font was created with attention to each letter to limit “b” and “d” confusion and draw the eye to the bottom of the line.

Printing from iOS Devices

Here are some helpful resources I just discovered to help facilitate printing from iOS devices. Many schools are rolling out iPads without having printers that support AirPrint. If you happen to have a computer connected to the same wifi network as the iPad you are in luck. Here are two programs you can install on your computer that will “broadcast” the drivers on your computer:


OPrint ($20)– is software you can quickly download and install. The printer connected to your computer will now show up in your iOS device using the share button > print > choose printer.


HandiPrint ($5-10 donation)– Functions just like OPrint but for OSX systems.
Happy printing!!!!

Fluency Tutor: Google App Integrated Running Records

TextHelp just released a new tools for teachers. TextHelp has been providing robust assistive technology tools for students and is branching out to supporting students on the cloud. They are one of the first companies to introduce a text prediction tool compatible with Google Apps and now is venturing into the instructional technology world.

Fluency Tutor is a tool that allows teacher to assign lexile or age appropriate reading passages for students to read and record via their Google Apps account. While reading, students are able to have the following tools available for their support:

  • Text read aloud with word by word highlighting
  • Simple dictionary definitions for unfamiliar words
  • Picture dictionary
  • English to Spanish translation
For the free account, teachers are then able to capture the recordings for each of the students on the main dashboard for progress tracking. The premium account features the ability to score the reading passage for the following errors:
  • Mispronunciations
  • Hesitations
  • Insertions
  • Omissions
  • Substitutions
  • Transpositions
A teacher is able to listen to the recording which is paused when marking an error. The app is also able to provide a words per minute count (after marking the 1 minute point) and a reading quality rubric is completed for each reading sample to generate a “Fluency Score”.  A progress chart is then available for each student to track changes in the Fluency Score and reading rate.
There are a variety of reading passages to chose from however at this point custom reading passages are not available. An annual subscription is $99 per teacher/ per year. 

Summer Project: My Metryx

My Metryx

This is a great tool for teachers to keep track of their students data and help “see” what their classroom looks like. There are many customizable features and you can make your data as precise as you need it. 
To start, you will create an account and start with a class. You can then add grades and add students to those grades or add individual students. This is great middle and high school teachers or cluster subject teachers who have multiple classes.
Next, you add your assessments. The hierarchy starts with the Subject > Skillsets > Skills. As an example you can open a Subject for ELA > Skillset for Reading (Running Records) > Skills of fluency, decoding and so on.
Now you can put all this information together and set up parameters for which students will be assessed for what skills. Outcomes can be rated on a yes/ no mode, rubric mode, or data entry mode. 
After assessing your students, you have the options of looking at individual student reports or view how your class is doing on particular skills. The reports are visually friendly turning your data into user friendly pie charts and line graphs for progress over time. Metryx will even help split up your class, either creating either equal groups or RTI groups based on the scoring data. 
Here is a link to a short video tutorial for the visual learners in the bunch: