New Found Tools for OCR with Auditory Feedback and Phonetic Word Prediction (FREE)

Microsoft OCR with Immersed Reading

office-lens-iconIn a bid to continue supporting struggling student, Microsoft has introduced OCR functionality with the added benefit of Text to Speech (TTS) to its document scanning app, Office Lens . Office Lens works in tandem with your other Microsoft apps and requires an account. At this time, users do not need a Microsoft 365 subscription and can use a free outlook.com account.

The scanning app is straightforward to use and provides options to scan a business card, photo, document, or whiteboard.  Automatic page detection is available however the user still needs to press the camera button to capture the image.  The next step is to select the “Immersive Reader” option. The app will then OCR (Object Character Recognize) the image and produce a screen with the text extracted from the image.

Some standout features of this app include its simple user interface and the option for “Wide Text Spacing” which increases the line spacing for easier reading.  TTS is easily activated through the play button and reading speed is adjusted through a slider in the toolbar.  While reading, the screen is grayed out while the word being read is highlighted. This allows for easier scanning and reading. On tried scanning, the OCR accuracy proved significantly accurate.

Drawbacks of the app include limited ability to modify the font style and color options. Additionally, navigating through the text is a bit cumbersome. Original formatting of the document is removed from the scan which might be disorienting to readers.

See the video below for a quick walkthrough:

Phonetic Word Prediction Using Google Input Tool

Word prediction has become a commonly available tool on current mobile devices used to increase typing speed using the onscreen keyboard. This functionally, however, has been used by students with dyslexia for many years especially using flexible spelling or phonetic spelling predictors. Most operating system and mass market word prediction rely on the context of the writing versus phonetic spelling patterns and often do not support students with significant dyslexia.

Google’s  Input Tool is both a setting and a Chrome extension that helps support this spelling pattern. The traditional use of this tool is for keyboarding in multiple languages with transliteration available for some languages. This support, for example, allows a Hebrew writer to keyboard “shalom” using the roman keyboard while the Input Tool will then translate the entry to “שלןם”. This same support can be used while writing in English within Google Drive apps.

To activate this support:

  • Visit: My Account- Input Tools
  • Click “Select Languages”
  • Select English from the checkbox menu and save the settings
  • To test: open a Google Doc, upon loading you should see “En” icon at the end of the toolbar to the right of the “Tx” icon. Select the suggestion icon.
  • When typing, you should begin to see a suggested word list that follows the cursor and adapts to the letters being written.
  • To enter the desired word, either click on the word or enter the corresponding number.

The accuracy of this support for phonetic spelling has been  fairly accurate for longer words.  It falters however for homophones or shorter words. These, however, can often be corrected by Google Doc’s built-in spelling and grammar checker.

There is a bit of a lag between when the tool is enabled and the time it shows up within the Google Apps. An additional workaround to try is adding an additional language and then removing it once the tool is available.

See the video below for a quick walkthrough:

Co:Writer 3rd Party Keyboard is Here!

Co:Writer’s 3rd Party Keyboard
topic dictionary

Third party keyboards have given iOS users the ability to use customized keyboards across apps. Until recently, the powerful Co:Writer word prediction had been locked within it’s own app limiting the user’s ability to use the support on any app. With a recent update, Co:Writer Universal now provides a 3rd party keyboard option giving writers the ability to use this support across any app (Notability, Notes, Google Docs, Safari, etc).

The settings for auditory feedback carry over from the Co:Writer app as well as the topic dictionaries created. These can be toggled on and off directly within the keyboard.

This is a great and well needed update! For more information on how to enable 3rd party keyboard see this Apple support documentation.

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.

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:

PC

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.

MAC

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

Why Doesn’t Starfall work on my iPad?

So you have your iPad and ready to use it in the classroom. Finally, your students will have the chance to practice their reading at their desks only to find that your favorite sites don’t work on the iPad!

Why? Many sites use Flash animations to work their games and interactive books. Popular iOS browsers such as Safari do support this type of program and there for the content will be viewable on your iPad. Some sites have started making apps that match the content on their web browsers but there is another way…

Try downloading Puffin. This is a free iOS web browser that will play Flash content.

Know any other browsers to recommend? Share in the comments section below!

Review: Adobe Voice

Adobe has recently release its own story telling app. Although there are many in the app store this one offers a few unique benefits for teachers and students. Following the Universal Design for Learning model, using Voice can help provide students with a means of expression.

Voice follows a familiar “slide” format however it has pre- made templates for the following: Promote an Idea, Tell What Happened, Explain Something, Follow a Hero’s Journey, Show and Tell, Share a Growth Moment, Teach a Lesson, Share an Invitation, or Make Up My Own. Each template comes with a range of slides (5-8) that asks the user to answer a particular question on that slide. This is great for students who just don’t know where to start and what to say.

Within each template, students may add icons (provided by The Noun Project), photos, and text (No video). They are then able to record audio narration that follows the visual support. Once all the slides are built, the presentation can be customized by themes and background music can be added to run throughout. The great benefit of this app is that it provides rich variety of content within it. When adding photos, a student may search and Voice will only provide images tagged as having a Creative Commons License.

Once you are ready to publish, the project can either be public or private and all attributions are inserted automatically. This is a great pro for this app in getting users to give credit where credit is due.

Finally! An App Smashing Solution for PDF Annotation with Text OCR

=  SUCCESS!

One of the most challenging classroom tasks to modify for students with learning disabilities is the dreaded worksheet. Although there are multiple apps that will take a picture of a document and OCR (object character recognition) the text the formatting of the document is lost. Translation- you can take a picture of page and have it read back to you but it won’t look like the page you scanned.

Solution!
PDFpen Scan+ ($4.99) now allows you to take a picture of a document (single or multi-page), crop it to the desired dimensions, modify the contrast and then OCR the text on the page. Once this file is complete you can open the document in any PDF annotation app (many free options available). This will allow the student to press hold the text on the document and use the iOS built in speech to text accessibility feature to read back the text on the page. They can then annotate the document using a pen, type in text to fill in the blanks, or use audio recording (depends on the PDF annotation app) to complete this worksheet.

A bit of warning though: this solution does require an app savvy student and the OCR is not full proof.

Air Server: Wireless Mirroring for Your iOS Device

What you Need:

  • iOS Device
  • Computer (PC- XP Not supported/Mac) Connect to projector
  • Install Air Server on your computer 
  • Internet connection to activate software
  • Wifi connection on computer and iOS devices

Want to show the class a great app or stream your lesson on your smartboard while walking around the classroom? AirServer is here to help… AirServer is desktop software that allows you to project your iOS device. You can mirror your iOS device as well as multiple iOS devices that are connected to the same network through the AirPlay support in the Control Center. They provide you with a 7 day trial version just to test it out and make sure it works with your system. To purchase, a standard license (3 computers) is $14.99 and educational license is $11.99. Bulk licenses are also available.

Screen Recording

On a Mac you can also screen record if you want to provide a reference for your students who may need to re-listen to your lesson. This is also a great resource for flipped classrooms. This feature is the works for PCs.

SwiftKey Note as a Free Alternative to Word Prediction Apps?

Screenshot

SwiftKey Note (free) was just released and in this iOS version (universal) provides the writer with a standard keyboard and 3 word prediction choices above the keyboard as well as intelligent auto correct. Word prediction is a great option for students who struggle with spelling. SwiftKey is quick and integrates with your Evernote account seamlessly. Notes can be inserted into your currently existing notebooks and tagged.

Analytics

In addition, SwiftKey reported adaptive learning based on words you frequently use. It would be interesting to test out with student and see how good this works for phonemic spellers. Also, analytics are available within the app to let you know how much support was used. Interesting data for teachers.

Although this app does not come with auditory feedback for words and sentences, the built in speech to text accessibility feature works great.

Currently there are multiple apps (iWordQ and Co:Writer) that help struggling spellers with word prediction skills however these apps range in pricing from $17 to $25. It would be interesting to see if this app can support learners as well?