Unit 2: PLN
Before starting this course, which also coincided with my intention to explore web 2.0 tools for teaching and learning, I was not even aware what a PLN is. I had started using Mentormob to see how I could use Twitter but I could not see the benefits to me of being connected. My worst fear was that it will just add even more to my hectic schedule.
What should a PLN look like?
It is assumed that the 21st Century educator now operates under this model (Alec Couros of Open Thinking blog created this graphic).
The benefits of being connected only became apparent while using the PLN, so it is best to just give it a go. However, it was easy for us in a way, as we were shown the usefulness of Twitter by giving us the opportunity to take part in a Twitter social where we could instantly see the benefits to us. It also helped to have been given some hashtags to explore, so that we could discover some of the useful links being shared, saving ourselves to have to discover everything ourselves.
Will Richardson summarises succinctly what a PLN is (http://youtu.be/mghGV37TeK8) but in the video he also highlights the need for teachers to experience a PLN in order to see the benefit of this type of learning. After having starting a PLN, I agree with Will’s comments, unless you experience it yourself how can you possible know the benefits it may bring. One of the things I have learned from being connected, is that Google is not my first port of search engine any longer. I now often search for something specific using Scoop.it, Livebinder, Pearltrees and Pinterest, just to get an idea what other people have collected already on this topic.
One thing I still need to do is to fine-tune my PLN; so far, I feel I have been just swept along and I am drifting wherever my curiousity takes me on the web. This is acceptable for some of the time as you pick up some real nuggets by chance encounters. However I would like to manage my PLN a little more and I have found this interesting summary which just fits perfectly with my sentiment.
I have started making a list of blogs to follow, some of which I will follow through their RSS feeds whereas others I will need to visit now and then. I followed a couple of blogs via email but I find my inbox is being filled up with notifications and I personally don’t like this. I have started using a RSS reader and still need to explore how to use podcasts and audio resources more.
Unit 3, 4 and 5 combined
Documents can be made more accessible either by changing the format within the documents or change how documents are read, i.e. audio output, TTS with bimodal reading mode (ebooks/digital), Braille/tactile, large/giant print.
Structured, more accessible documents
Although knowing about structured documents for a long time, I still did not create these consistently due to various reasons. One of the main obstacles was that I thought that it takes so much longer to write something if you have to constantly stop to change headings and other formatting. Of course it doesn’t once you have learnt how to use shortcuts. However, a real eye opener was when I opened a 100 page long pdf document on Voice Dream Reader (Ipad app). I realised that I had no way of gaining an overview of the document quickly and was not too sure of the documents’ relevance. If the document had been structured this experience would have been very different.
Another problem I faced was that I am using Word2010 at home and I have set up a Quick Style called “assistive” but which I have not transferred it to the computer I am using at school yet as I was not aware how easily this could be done. My “assistive” Quick Style incorporates all the recommendation from Clear Print as recommended by RNIB:
(Accessed February 2013: http://www.rnib.org.uk/professionals/accessibleinformation/text/pages/clear_print.aspx)
Top tips for achieving Clear Print:
- Document text size should be 12-14 pt, preferably 14 pt.
- The font you choose should be clear, avoiding anything stylised
- All body text should be left aligned
- Use bold sparingly, only highlight a few words rather than a paragraph
- Keep the text layout clear, simple and consistent
- Don’t use blocks of capitalised letters, and try not to use any italics or underlining
- Text shouldn’t be overlaid on images
- The substrate or coatings should not be glossy or reflective
- Ensure the paper is thick enough to prevent show through
- The contrast between the text and background is as high as possible
- All text should be the same orientation on the page
- Space between columns of text is large enough to be distinct
- Any information conveyed in colour or through images is also described
How to transfer Quick Styles easily
- Open up a document that has the style set incorporated
- Select save as Quick style set
- Name this Quick style and save it
How to remember the keyboard shortcuts?
We were encouraged to create cue cards which I did, but I found, that when I needed them while working on different computers around the school, I did not have these on me. I have now created cue cards on the most essential shortcuts in a smaller format and laminated these in so that the cue cards are protected. Once I have learned these shortcuts I will move onto the next level of shortcuts.
To get myself up to scratch with keyboard shortcuts, I purchased Rocketkeys, a software that provides reminders of keyboard shortcuts that are beneficial to know. It works with all the MS Office application, Outlook and gmail. Overall, I found it quite surprising how hard I found it to get rid of the habit of using a mouse.
I have just realised that part of the reason for not easily adopting keyboard shortcuts is because I touch type. I find using some of the keyboard shortcuts quite disruptive to my writing as I need to use both hands to enable a shortcut whereas I only need to move one hand to use the mouse. However, there are certain keyboard shortcuts I have always used and will continue to do so:
Ctrl C, V, B, N, Y, Z
One of the new shortcuts I really find useful within Word are:
WIN + / –
Going over all the units of the Load2Learn course is useful as it gives everyone the chance to reflect back on items that we already had covered and hopefully discover some of these in a new light. For example, I realised that I prefer using my bluetooth keyboard when using my laptop as the layout of this other keyboard is more user friendly. The reason for using an extra keyboard was to improve my posture as it allows me to have the screen level with my eyes. It clearly highlights that when working with pupils we should pay attention even to little thing such a keyboard in order to improve how they use technology.
Alternative ways of accessing print
I found the experience using text-to-speech initially very irritating but have since learned to use it to my advantage. I use TTS now for proofreading which is invaluable. I have also started using TTS to listen to reports being read out while driving or cooking . It provides my eyes with a rest period when I have read for a long time on the computer and I just can listen to a document being read out. Additionally, this allows me to make notes at the same time which I cannot when I am reading the document; this keeps me focussed on listening but also allows me to remember the content better. Two birds with one stone kind of idea.
Unit 6 Hardware for reading
I have found a good review of the latest ereaders on http://ebook-reader-review.toptenreviews.com/ and the outline below gives an overview on ereaders that support TTS.
Additionally, to the ereader listed above, the Kindle Keyboard 3G and Kindle Touch enable TTS.
However, while TTS facility may be essential for some users, others may take other criteria into consideration when choosing an ereader, such as weight, dimensions, battery life, cost and other functionality.
Unit 7 Print disability: Theory and Practice
This unit was helpful in clarifying the rights and responsibilities for making material accessible. One realisation that particular stuck out for me was that you cannot simplify the material and/or extract certain parts to simplify it for the student. I am sure we all have been in a situation that you have provided a student with a digital copy of the material and then realised that the print-disability is not the only reason why the text was not accessible to him/her. Simplifying the digital copy is not allowed under the CLA School Licence or under any other licence. However, since we have the duty to make curriculum material accessible to pupils we still can provide supporting documents written by us to explain the topic.
Learning stations provided a good overview
The learning stations reminded us that a pupil
- may have difficulty reading aloud although it can read
- may be able to read fluently but do not understand what they read (comprehension is part of reading)
- alternative ways of reading are just as valid
Jenny’s clear explanation of who is print-disabled
A person is print-disabled if he/she is blind, partially sighted, dyslexic or has a cognitive disabilities such as Autsim, Asperger’s and ADHD. A physical disability that prevents them from holding a print copy of the book. From the CLA Print Disability Licence: “A person who is visually impaired or is otherwise disabled and who is unable, by reason of their visual impairment or other disability, to read or access part or the whole of any Work being a person to whom the Licensee wishes to distribute Licensed Copies, including any individual employed by the Licensee and any teacher or carer of such a person.”