Category Archives: Educational Technology Demos

Assistive Technology Review: Kurzweil 3000, A Universal Design Learning (UDL) Tool

Kurzweil 3000 is one example of an assistive technology (AT) commonly referred to as a text-to-speech tool. Because no research has been done comparing the efficacy of specific brands as AT supports, recommending the tool class for students/users, rather than a specific brand, is preferable (Holmes & Silvestri, 2012). Therefore, while this review describes the specific features of Kurzweil 3000, with few exceptions, the strengths and benefits and types of students/users described more generally describe the text-to-speech class of AT.

Kurzweil 3000 is a comprehensive learning tool that supports students with respect to reading, writing/composition, study skills and test-taking via integrated biomodal text reading (visual and audible) and a number of other in-application features, as well as a number of interfaces that bring resources such as online dictionaries and scanned documents into the application (Kurzweil Education systems, 2013.) This class of AT tools is appropriate for students who have the cognitive capacity to learn at their grade level, but not the reading capacity; for instance, students who have dysgraphia or dyslexia, visually impaired students, or students who are English language learners. (Kurzweil Education Systems, 2013a) Students who have attention deficient (hyperactivity) disorder (ADD/ADHD) or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) could be added to this list. As well, text-to-speech tools such as Kurzweil 3000 may be an appropriate tool (perhaps even a “tool of choice”) for students who have a learning disability (LD). Additionally, features such as the study skills supports may make Kurzweil 3000 an appropriate tool for use with proficient learners/readers, making it a universal design tool (UDL) tool appropriate for an inclusion classroom comprising students of mixed capabilities.

Full Review

Week 13 – Educational Technology Demos

Part A – Virtual Vendor Video

This is my virtual vendor video, describing ActivTable by Promethean, MindView Educational Mind Mapping Software, and MIT’s Scratch.

Part B – Educational Technology Demo Day Reflection

I was very excited to attend the educational technology Demo Day at the U of A on April 2nd. I had a chance to talk with most of the vendors, and was very inspired by the products being promoted. As I’m building my own ideas about how I will approach teaching, and my skills as a teacher, it is very important to have opportunities like this to help me envision how I can incorporate technology into my classroom to support my teaching strategies.

Below is an overview of six booths I visited during Demo Day that featured products I would consider incorporating into my classroom. (Sorry, it is more than 300 words. I was very inspired!)


Representative: Pete McKay

This booth was demonstrating the web site, which offers student and teacher resources packages for individual and classroom use, organized via age/grade grouping, and by subject area corresponding the Alberta curriculum (language arts, math, science, etc.). These “Student Sites” and “Teacher Sites” include collections of resources with links, and all resources have been vetted by for copyright. The “Teacher Sites” offer Web 2.0 tools and resources. Using the “Student Sites”, teachers can find resources for use with IWBs. The web site also features an image database. “Enjoy Pages” provide packages of topic-centered resources to help facilitate discussion, etc.

I would utilize in my classroom as a jumping off point for new units, etc., and would use the “Enjoy Pages” to inspire and inform class discussions. I would also have my students utilize to start their search for reference material, etc. I like the fact that is accessible outside the classroom (i.e. at home).

Because has vetted all resources for copyright, I can be sure that neither my students nor I are infringing on copyright.

I would also use resources to support my professional development, such as “The Concourse” webinars.

Booth: Online Reference Centre (ORC)

Representative: Jamie Davis

Available @, or directly @

This booth was demonstrating the $1.7 million of resources available to teachers and students K-12 through the ORC. The collection is organized by grade range. Experts update these resources frequently. Many/most resources are only available through the ORC. For instance, the ORC recently acquired the Visual Thesaurus (which features audio pronunciation). There is a Visual Thesaurus web site, but it cannot be logged onto directly; users must access is via the ORC. At school, students do not need a login, but outside of school (ex. from home) students would need a login. Login info is unique to each school district, and students can obtain login information from their school’s librarian. The representative gave me the login unique to U of A pre-service teachers, so that I could begin utilizing the ORC myself. The ORC features a “My Workspace” section, through which additional teacher resources are accessible.

There is a French language section, but it includes fewer resources.

The representative described that the ORC is currently working to revamp its homepage to make is more user friendly, and more “jazzy” and “glitzy” to engage kids.


I would utilize the ORC as a source for supplemental material to draw on in my lesson planning, and I would have my students utilize it as another starting point to find and gather information, then use web 2.0 tools to share information with each other. It is a particularly good tool because it facilitates access to information and resources that may not otherwise be accessible.

I like that the ORC is also accessible outside the classroom.

Because citations are embedded into each resource (and many link to RefWorks), I would have students utilize this feature to create reference lists in their work. The representative suggested starting this practice with young children, to begin developing these skills by having them citing the databases in which they found their references, and building these skills from that point.

I would consider incorporating available podcasts, videos, etc. into my lessons; many are easily accessible because they are embedded in the ORC resources. I like that the resources are organized by grade range.

I was pleased to hear about the read aloud and text translation features available in many of the ORC databases, and that some resources can be downloaded to MP3; this is an excellent feature that will help mediate barriers for students who have visual impairments or a learning disability that impacts their reading skills.

I would also utilize the ORC for professional development, including resource training and “Webinar of the Month” (publisher webinars).

Booth: Microsoft

Representatives: Adam Steier and Allison Brown

This booth was promoting two new Microsoft tablets for use in the classroom: Surface (RT) and Surface Pro (with Windows 8 Pro). While it is possible to install third-party apps onto Surface Pro, or Surface (RT) apps can only be installed from the Windows Store. Both have touch screens made with Gorilla glass, a Windows Flash player, USB port, and can be Cloud connected. They connect with Mac and android devices. Documents can be edited via smart phones. Surface (RT) and Surface Pro feature “infinite notebook”, and handwritten notes can be made on the screen and converted to text.

In the classroom, teachers and students can stay connected and share/sync files via SkyDrive. I would also use this feature to enable submit their assignments. Class-based groups can be created, as well as home-based groups.

These devices can link with an IWB, and I would utilize this capability in my classroom.

I am more familiar with Apple products, but I want to become more familiar with Windows-based and android devices to enhance my competencies and flexibility. For instance, IWBs work with Windows or Mac, but the ActivTable from Promethean (which is a product I would like to utilize in my classroom) is embedded with a Windows operating system.

I have signed up for the “Windows in the Classroom and Partners in Learning” ( certification workshop on April 9th, offered at the U of A.

Presentation Partner

Representative: AJ Brandsma

I included this vendor and product in my screen cast (see above), so the description I provide here is a recap.

This booth was demonstrating the Promethean ActivTable (with ActivInspire software). ActivTable features a 46-inch HD LCD display smart table with a touch-sensitive screen. It offers multi-user capability via 60 points of touch to accommodate up to 6 users per table. Up to 6 Internet connections can be open at the same time on one table. The table has 4 USB ports. 70 activities are available. ActivTable comes pre-loaded with 30 activities, and additional activities can be downloaded from the activity store. Windows (standard 7) is he embedded operating system, and ActivTable Integrates with ActivBoard and ActiView.

Here are videos I took during the demo:

As a multi-user tool, the primary feature of ActivTable is that it promotes collaborative small group work and learning. This is how I would use it in my elementary classroom, particularly with younger children (from kindergarten to about grade 4), to help them develop planning, cooperation and communication skills that will serve them in the higher grades and lifelong.

I would also use ActivTable to facilitate differentiated instruction, so that I could organize my classroom into pods with each pod working on a different learning task.

ActivTable helps promote an inclusive classroom. For instance, the screen doesn’t require precise one-finger touch, so a student who has a disability that affects their fine motor skills could use their whole hand, for instance, to trace letters on the screen. The table also provides an accessible fit for wheelchairs.

ActivTable also offers quite comprehensive activity and reporting tools that enable teachers to track individual student activity and contributions (especially in group work) more effectively than is possible via observation. For instance, ActivTable records each student’s heat signature, which tells the teacher how often and how long that student engaged with the screen during an activity. The two-way user interface also enables teachers to provide real-time feedback to students.

There were other products at this booth, but I did not get a chance to see them demonstrated, not to ask the representative about them. These products included the ActivExpression2, which is an individual handheld learner response system, which encourages student participation and enables teachers to undertake real-time assessment of student progress. I would use these for this purpose in my classroom.

photo-5      photo-7

As well, there was an Epson BrightLink interactive projector. I did some searching, and found information that Promethean and Epson recently agreed on an initiative through which Epson will distribute Promethean’s ActivInspire software in conjunction with Epson’s BrightLink projector. Here is a link to some more information regarding this:

Booth: Aroga

Representative: Craig Nienaber

This booth was demonstrating some of the assistive technology that Aroga distributes. I was particularly inspired by what I observed at this booth.

The representative demonstrated:

Alternative keyboard for students with low vision (yellow & black keyboard) or a disability impacting their fine motor skills (colour-coded keyboard, which makes it easier to the student to target the keys, and has an embedded key guard so that only one key is hit).


Non-traditional style mouse, for instance, a joystick, and a mouse switch that can be mounted anywhere that it would be more accessible for a student (such as on a wheelchair arm).

Programmable muse (i.e. hit, drag and drop mouse)

Handheld portable magnifier

Read & Write GOLD, full literacy-based software for the classroom. A portable version is available, loaded onto a USB stick that can be plugged into any computer. The program reads text aloud, highlights text as it is being read aloud, and included other supports tools such as more accurate spell-check. The program integrates with MS Word and other common applications. It can interact with an IWB, and used with the whole class, i.e. going through a text with the entire class. In this way, this program helps to create an inclusive classroom, so that the student with the disability is not singled out and doesn’t have to work with the tool on his/her own.

I would utilize this program for students who have a visual impairment or a learning disability that impacts their reading skills, to support them in their reading and writing, and completing assignments.  It could also support these students when they are taking tests.

Read & Write GOLD is already available in many Alberta classrooms, and is a literacy tool that Alberta Education has endorsed.

MindView Educational Mind Mapping Software (or “MindView”), a software program that serves as a visual learning tool. I discussed this software program in my screen cast (see above), so the description I provide here is a recap.

The Aroga representative described how MindView incorporates visual- and spatial-area learning skills, which mediates learning barriers for many students who have language-area learning disabilities. In this respect, this tool fosters an inclusive classroom environment. MindView also fosters more comprehensive learning because, if only language-based learning is used in teaching, then the experiential learning facilitated via visual- and spatial-area learning is missed. Combining language-, visual- and spatial-based learning creates more comprehensive learning.

MindView incorporates a concept map that becomes the lesson:


It can be exported to PowerPoint, for those who are more comfortable using PowerPoint for presentations:


In presentation mode within the MindView tools itself, we see the whole concept map and each component can be enlarged and reviewed, and can be converted to a timeline format. Companion information such as text notes, web links, videos and images can be attached to each component.

All content can be downloaded into MS WORD with automatic table of contents and APA formatting, which students can then use as a starting point for their own brainstorming and writing process:

MindView_download     MindView_download2

In my classroom, I would utilize MindView as my primary tool for creating, updating and organizing lessons, in all subjects. I would create a concept map for each subject, showing how each topic in each subject links together over the course of the school year.

Each MindView subject concept map could serve as the primary resource material for my students to use, and they would not need to take notes (i.e. I could provide each student with a downloaded copy of my presentation and embedded text notes, etc).

I would also use MindView as a tool for collaborative work as a class, for instance, as a class we could develop a concept map for a lesson on nature that incorporates specific topic items suggested by the students as components to include in the lesson (ex. insects, birds, flowers, weather). This would help empower students by allowing them to decide what they are interested in learning. It would also help develop their communication and consensus-building skills. And their cognitive skills in terms of identifying how subconcepts are link to and related to each other via broader concepts.

Overall, what the Aroga representative impressed upon me most was the ability for assistive technology to take disability out of the equation. In particular, teachers can implement tools such as MindView and Read & Write GOLD as part of their teaching style, so that they use them with the entire class, thereby creating an inclusive environment in which the student with the disability is not singled out.

The Aroga representative also described the role of consultants in helping identify and integrate assistive technologies into classrooms, so that teachers are supported in their efforts to create inclusive environments. He mentioned how rural districts and schools, in particular, are in need of help to investigate options.

Booth: EDIT 486 – Interactive Multimedia

Representative: Eric deJong

This booth provided information about this U of A course, which provides an opportunity to learn about the practical application of constructivist theory via game building (i.e. “learning by doing”). Participants in this course gain proficiency in game-building software, which they can utilize in their future classrooms with their own students. Scratch (from MIT) and KODU (from Microsoft) are the simple, user-friendly game-building software demonstrated in EDIT 486, both of which are available for free download. These programs are aimed at children from ~8 years old, though I think with teacher support younger children could use them.

I would consider using Scratch (which I describe and demonstrate in my screen cast, above) and KODU in my classroom because these programs help students learn skills such as storytelling, problem solving, consensus building and collaboration, literacy, and technical computer skills through creating and building games. In my classroom, I would use Scratch to facilitate group work that capitalizes on the different strengths of the students in the group/pod. I would have students decide together which of them will lead script/dialogue and story development, artwork and sound development, and building the storyboard, for instance. I would have students link their story to something from the curriculum, such as the solar system or dinosaurs. I think it would be a very engaging way to inspire students to think deeply about the material and operationalize what they are learning.

Here is a screenshot of the storyboard I helped my 5-year-old  to begin creating:

Picture 1