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Places still available on CALL’s Switching to Excellence course, 8th March, with Ian Bean

By Sally Millar on Monday 27th February, 2012 at 1:09pm

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There is no real shortage of switch accessible software for those children with complex additional support needs - whether due to physical difficulties or learning difficulties – who are unable to use a traditional keyboard and mouse. But do we choose, introduce, teach and use the right software in the right way, at the right time, to suit each highly individual child, and to help them develop their skills and progress towards their full potential?

Maybe not. Sadly, we can still often see a child sitting in school, year–in-year-out with the same software, “practising his switch”.  If it hasn’t ’worked’ by now, we should be looking at how WE have set up the task, not blaming it all on the child! What are we missing? How could we do things differently?

These days, more and more software at the early years and complex learning difficulty level is designed only for mouse and/ or touch screen use. But many learners cannot use this effectively either. We see children in school batting ineffectually with their hands at a screen. On assessment, they often have ‘cause and effect’ understanding long established but have not been able to move on from single hit software, because of access & control issues. Switch access might reduce the physical demand and let the child move on to tasks more suited to his / her cognitive abilities.

This CALL course on 8th March 2012 aims to unpick these issues and will provide insights and, ideas, tools and resources to help us to do a better job with these learners.  We are very lucky to have secured the time of the famous Ian Bean to lead this course, in CALL. Ian is the author of the much-loved ‘Priory Woods’ switch music videos, and is now working as an independent consultant.  Ian is not  a product salesman but an experienced teacher of children with profound & multiple / or severe and complex  additional support needs. He is the author of the Switch Progression Roadmap,  and a highly recommended trainer. CALL provides laptops so that everyone can have plenty hands-on, with expert support if needed.

Lastly, there are iPads. Everyone seems to want to use them, in spite of their high ‘distractability factor’, and regardless of whether particular children can control them effectively or not!  There are many low-cost fun Apps for learners at a sensory / cause and effect level. There are a very few scanning (Bluetooth) switch operated communication Apps. We will look at these on the course (though not in huge detail as this is not the CALL course on iPads, that’s later in the year).

Do please take the time to look up the full ‘blurb about this course. There are still places available and you will get a lovely lunch and a goody-bag of resources put together by both Ian Bean and CALL. Phone 0131 651 6236 or book online here.

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Why, if and when to move to BoardMaker Studio...???

By Sally Millar on Friday 17th February, 2012 at 1:46pm

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Here's a 'changing over to the new Boardmaker Studio?' discussion that I imagine quite a few establishments will be having over the next wee while.

***

Original Enquiry

I have a bit of a predicament and would really appreciate your help! In this city, we are about to refresh all our current computers...There are bound to be issues at refresh with new software and resources being required. The biggest issue for us is Boardmaker. In this special school, we are (I think!) advanced users of Boardmaker Plus!, using it to its fullest potential with lots of interactive activities and creating individualised resources for our children. We even make our communication passports using Boardmaker. However, we are using Mac versions and we need to move over to PC versions come refresh. The burning question is - Boardmaker 6 Plus! for PC or Boardmaker Studio? I have been trialling Boardmaker Studio, and I'm finding it hard to change the mindset of starting from scratch every time, to now using templates and adapting someone else's work / idea. Some of the interactive things I do currently can't be done without actual programming, or importing from the current version. I know you noted some reservations in your blog, and I was wondering if you had  any further thoughts about this?

Boardmaker is a wonderful resource, I could not teach without it, but I don't want to move to a version which is going to be a source of frustration at a time when there are lots of other changes happening.

Thanks in anticipation!

Kind regards

Principal Teacher, Special School

***

Answer from Sally at CALL

Yes this is a big dilemma for you, I understand.  There is no 'right answer' of course, as you already realise - it's a judgement call. And your school is perhaps a bit of a special case, as an 'advanced symbol-using special school'.

If you and your colleagues are finding that you can do everything you want to already with BM Plus, I think on balance I'd advise you to stick with it. Especially if you have cracked the whole interactive speaking, draggable IWB classroom resources bit (which is the sticking point for many others, who still only use BM for printable materials).  And also especially if, as you say, there are going to be lots of other difficult changes to cope with at the same time, concerning the refresh.

CALL has just heard from a PT at another Special School who says that they are sticking with BM 6 Plus! - no plans to change to Studio. Maybe partly money and partly a positive choice.  Indeed, there seem to be people here and in the USA that still use the decades-old original or very early versions of BM  (Mac and PC) quite happily, so there is no obvious need to rush to change to the newest version.

The only thing I can see that you'd lose out on with BM Plus! rather than Studio, is the possibility that more and more of the shared resources available on BoardMaker Share may start to be in Studio not Plus (and the complicated interactive ones are not usually 'backwards compatible') but to be honest I think it will be a long time before that starts to happen, and maybe your school materials are so specialised anyway that that wouldn't affect you unduly anyway. Interestingly, the new add-on 'Pre-Made Activities' (pretty cheap) coming out, see http://www.mayer-johnson.co.uk/pre-made/   - and these may well increase as time goes on - apparently run on their own, and don' t need BM Plus or BM Studio to run.

However, this is really a whole school / authority strategy issue, not just a choice for you as an individual teacher (or do you have designated responsibility for ICT, overall)?

I think Mayer Johnson's plan is to market BM Studio into schools that have never used symbols before, including Secondary schools, and to push the 'inclusive classroom/school' concept. I believe BM Studio was designed to make things easier for new users (especially teachers wanting interactive materials for IWB use). If a school or a member of staff is just starting out and thinking of using symbols for the first time, I am starting to point them to BM Studio, and they seem to recognise it as being 'like PowerPoint' or 'like Clicker' - and can also see that it could actually replace both of those as well, to streamline down to one single package (which might make it more likely to be used well than staff trying to use three or more packages).

For you, relevant considerations are perhaps (1) the 'user demographic' (sorry!) in the school . Do ALL the staff know and use BM Plus as well as you do? Is there training in it at this 'advanced' level for new staff coming in? Or are there just you / one or two 'experts' and all the others leave you to make all the material for the school?  And if the latter - what happens if/when you and your 'advanced' colleagues leave the school?  You should perhaps consider also what support other than from Mayer-Johnson you and other staff currently use / need / benefit from.  If you share materials with other schools and or have materials made for you by external specialists, then you might want to also consult them on this issue (probably you already have) and think about agreeing an overall strategy rather than potentially going off in separate directions.

And (2) the other software used in the school - and how widely and how well this other software is used?  If the school already has whizzo advanced expert users of Clicker and  Powerpoint then maybe there is no need for another package that does this kind of thing (with symbols inbuilt) but if these are under-used and you you think that some of these functions might enhance teaching and learning opportunities then BMStudio might have something to offer.

****

Finally there are always compromise solutions. I know it sounds a bit mad, but there might be a case to be made for buying a copy  (or some licences) of EACH version, so that different staff who might be at different points of expertise and experience, and might have pupils who are very different, could use the one that suits them best, and also have the opportunity to plan and build a kind of 'Boardmaker Transition Strategy' for the school / authority (for I fear that BM 6 Plus! may be set to disappear completely in a few years time….)

***

Sorry it's so complicated but hope this helps.

Best wishes, Sally

 ***

 

Response from Enquirer

Thank you so much for taking the time to give such a detailed response! I am happy for you to publish this on your blog or elsewhere, as it is a problem others will be facing.

I have a dual role in this is as ICT co-ordinator for my own school, but also as the special schools "champion" (unnecessarily grand title!) on the refresh team. There are 3 of us across the city trialling Boardmaker Studio over the next 6 months, and Mayer Johnson are keen to get some kind of package in place for refresh.

I would say that most staff have a good grounding in Boardmaker, and all classes are using interactive resources. There's probably an "expert" in each class, either teacher or member of support staff.

We don't use Clicker perhaps as much as we should, and are moving towards using Boardmaker for most things, including presentations.

I think your suggestion of using both versions to allow a period of transition is probably the best way forward.

Thanks again for your time and your support.

Principal Teacher, Special School

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Stand Up comedian with iPad communication aid

By Sally Millar on Friday 17th February, 2012 at 1:07pm

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 Here's a first! Lee Ridley is a young chap with CP and severe motor speech impairment using an iPad as an AAC system, to deliver his stand-up comedy routine.

Brilliant, good luck to him!

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Orang utans and iPads

By Sally Millar on Tuesday 17th January, 2012 at 12:18pm

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Well - the iPad is truly everywhere these days. Watch these fascinating videos - turns out that orangutans also like iPads!

They like to watch videos, paint, play kids' Apps, watch other orang utans via Skype, ebooks etc.

I have always been very interested in primate language studies and I'm now intrigued by how the situation has evolved. It started with  having the primate brought up as child in a psychologist's home with the careful teaching of sign language over many years - with interminable Behaviourist teaching & analysis of language 'performance'.  Now people are just using technology as a day to day tool for stimulation  - and the animals don't get ANY 'rewards', just the pleasure of intercting and playing with the device (take that, Skinner!)

And for communication, now just sticking photos on an iPad under its nose and saying "show me the 'x' "(hang on to the end to see iPad use).

Not too sure what to make of it all, though. Next step, it seems,  may be social networking?...(I can only fantasise about orang utans themselves signing up to Avaaz and all the online petitions against habitat-grabbing for palm oil plantations!)

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New text-based communication aid from Toby Churchill

By Sally Millar on Monday 28th November, 2011 at 1:45pm

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Toby Churchill Ltd. are preparing to launch a new communication aid, the Lightwriter Swift  - a pocket sized dedicated text-to-speech communication device - reportedly the smallest device of its type in the world.

You can see the new device on it's UK Launch Tour, in Edinburgh, at the Corn Exchange on 7th February 2012. Get the date in your diary now.

Sign up ASAP for a free morning, afternoon or evening (6pm) seminar - or just drop in to the 'Swift Cafe' between 10 am and 8 pm.

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Games and Toys for Christmas?

By Sally Millar on Monday 28th November, 2011 at 11:38am

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At this time of year, therapists and teachers often get asked by parents and grandparents for ideas about toys, gadgets or software that might make a suitable Christmas present for their family member who has access or communication support needs.

Without wanting to promote one supplier above any others, and with no commercial interest, we note that Liberator Ltd. has recently added some nice switch toys to their range, is selling a switch operated digital camera cheaper than some competitors, and also has just opened their 'Christmas Store' with a range of toys, switches and low tech communication aids, many at special 'Sale' prices.

For professional use, I liked the 3 for 2 low tech communication books

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iPads and specialised communication aids

By Sally Millar on Thursday 17th November, 2011 at 11:06am

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Words of wisdom from the wonderful Jane Farrall, SLT at Spectronics in Oz. Everyone needs to read this. Keep reading into the second half of this short article. In summary, the iPad is fabulous but it is NOT necessarily the miracle answer to every aspect of all children's communication needs. Thanks Jane!

Jane's words reflects my own experience. It's really not an 'either / or' scenario. These days I often find myself recommending a complex specialised communication aid for school and as the 'main' resource for developing language and communication AND - yes!, why not? - a lovely iPod / iPad  (which often parents have already bought or are happy to buy themselves) for use at home/ for fun / in social situations/ out and about / when travelling etc.

But I get scared and angry when I hear about someone who has apparently recently 'advised' Scottish Government and local authorities that nobody needs an expensive communication aid any more, because an iPad and free or cheap Apps can do it all. This is an over-simplified and dangerously misleading approach that is not in the best interest of vulnerable children and adults who cannot easily speak up for themselves. People with complex communication support needs require the most appropriate and the best solution(s), not just the cheapest / most fashionable.

 

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Tarheel Reader Books on iPad

By Sally Millar on Thursday 17th November, 2011 at 10:32am

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Jane Farrall in Melbourne Australia has just published on her blog a really useful step by step instructions for how to get a free book from the Tarheel Reader site into an iPad. Good way to make appropriate materials available without having to make them yourself. (You could also run the book online, which would be even quicker and easier, but downloading it as a powerpoint into iBooks means it can be always available and stay there for the child to enjoy again and again.

If you don't know about the TarheelReader site, go and have a look. There are many short and very simple stories there, freely useable and downloadable, made in Powerpoint, all with picture and speech support, one line of text, ideal for our emergent readers and learners with complex additional support needs. For example , see here, 'my cat is fat' (choose a voice on top left and off you go). (The quality can be a bit variable, so you do need to check before you select a book for a pupil. Some are a bit too 'American- mind you, there's nothing to stop us uploading our own books to the site, good idea!)

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Story Sequencer

By Sally Millar on Monday 14th November, 2011 at 7:17pm

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Haven't tried it yet, but this NASEN Award winning product, the Story Sequencer, looks like a usefully flexible (and pretty cheap) tool.

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Copying from BoardMaker Studio

By Sally Millar on Monday 14th November, 2011 at 6:32pm

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I have been weaning myself  - slowly  - off BoardMaker 6 and on to BoardMaker Studio. I love many of the clever new 'gadgets' for interactive use, though it's taking me a while to get to grips with some of the more complicated ones. I'll post a more comprehensive evaluation soon.

BUT the most annoying thing is how hard it's getting to simply copy and paste a symbol!

•  In BoardMaker 5 you just did a straight COPY from the Symbol Finder, and then PASTE into another document (nice transparent background)

• In BoardMaker 6, you have to click the symbol out of the Symbol Finder and then, from the drawing screen, Copy and then Paste it elsewhere. In the process, you lost the transparent background and acquired a white square background.

• But in Studio, you have to do all of the following:

File Menu > SetUp and Options > Symbols & Language > Symbol Manager > find the symbol you want > Edit in Image Editor (Paint) > select all > Copy. then Paste (or Save As) elsewhere (again, no transparent background).

(Or has anyone else found a better  / quicker way to do it??? Please tell me!)

Having to follow so many steps means it's a real pain to try and share visual information to communicate with parents or colleagues about which symbols are being taught and used etc.  and to adapt existing materials (eg. in Word) to be more Communication Friendly and Inclusive.

You have to wonder if Mayer Johnson have done this on purpose - they can't just have forgotten to include a Copy & Paste option!

Mind you - frustrated beyond words with this - on another occasion I ended up making my 'presentation in BM Studio instead of in Powerpoint, and it was very nice because it was actually quicker and easier to populate with symbols and other images, and also spoke (in the Scottish voice). So I learned to change my mindset (creak!) at least for that activity.

Which I suppose is the kind of solution that Mayer Johnson are aiming at.....  (But doing 'everything' in BM Studio will be hard for staff in schools that maybe only have one or two computers with it on.)

So  - I'd say Yes  - buy BoardMaker Studio and go for it!  Newcomers to BoardMaker certainly seem to love it. But don't upgrade ALL your copies - keep a secret copy of BM 6 somewhere in school. I'll be sticking with BM V6 for any graphic intensive work, for fast, detailed and fully independent symbol editing control.

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Cartoon Video introducing Assistive Technology

By Sally Millar on Monday 3rd October, 2011 at 10:08am

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This fun little cartoon video explains much of what is important about assistive technology for disabled users, in a clear and pretty cool way.

Update: 

I should clarify. The CALL Scotland team did not make this video, though I would be very proud if we had. We are just passing it on for wider appreciation. It was made by a team led by Jim Tobias of Inclusive Technologies. You can view the original at http://inclusive.com/AT_boogie/at30.swf

 

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Get-together day for People who use AAC

By Sally Millar on Wednesday 21st September, 2011 at 2:30pm

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Your communication: Your rights

  • Where? Edinburgh: The Faith Centre, Gilmerton (directions will be supplied, on booking)
  • When? Monday 7th November, 10.30 am - 3 pm (lunch provided)
  • Who? Adults (16+)in Scotland that use AAC;  Claire Edwards and Shirley Young, Inclusive Communication in Scotland project;  Augmentative Communication in Practice: Scotland folk (CALL, KeyComm, FACCT, TASSC, SCTCI, Ayrshire and Arran)
  • Why? To have a nice get-together with AAC friends. To get an update on things that are happening. To give your views on things that are important about communication, out and about in the community.
  • How? Book your place and your lunch by 24 October - phone, email or return the booking form to: CALL Scotland, University of Edinburgh, Paterson’s Land, Holyrood Road, Edinburgh EH8 8AQ. Tel - 0131 651 6235, Email – callscotland@ed.ac.uk or book online at the Augmentative Communication in Practice Scotland website (after 23rd September);
  • See the event flyer for more details. If you need help, in order to be able come, get in touch and ask, we'll do what we can to help.

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New Equipment in CALL: Tobii C12 and C15

By Sally Millar on Monday 22nd August, 2011 at 3:10pm

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CALL has recently added the Tobii C12 and the Tobii C15 communication aids to its equipment loan bank. These are both high-end, fully featured PC Windows 7 based communication aids, that can be controlled in many ways, including the built-in touch screen, keyboard, mouse, headmouse, switches, joystick, or the optional eye gaze control unit, the Tobii CEye which slots on to the bottom of the device.

The C12 and the C15 are essentially the same, except for size. The C12 has a 12.1” touch screen and weighs 6.5lbs. (2.9 Kgs), while the C15 is larger, with a 15” touch screen and weighing 8.9lbs (4 Kgs). Both are ‘mountable’ on a table or wheelchair mount, rather than ‘portable’ (N.B. adding the eye gaze control unit increases the weight further and means that the device must be mounted – can’t use the integrated stand.)

Both devices come with Tobii’s own communication aid software installed (Tobii Communicator with Symbol Stix symbols), and the possibility of using the Tobii Sono Suite (for text and computer access). However, CALL has also installed The Grid 2 software, which is more familiar to many users (and has Widgit symbols built-in). PCS symbols can be added. Users can choose which software they prefer to use for personal communication via symbols and/or text. Either software gives access to e-mail, text messaging and chat, internet access and access to other computer applications. CALL has added the Scottish Voices, Heather and Stuart, to both devices.

These devices seem to be proving popular across the AAC community. The Tobii hardware offers: long-lasting hot swappable batteries; powerful processor (Intel Core Duo U2500); shock-mounted hard disk drive (60 GB); silent operation; 4 powerful stereo speakers; and a built-in camera. Infra-red environmental control facilities are also built in. The OS appears to be stable. The devices have a streamlined look, with a moisture-sealed surface, and no buttons on the front to distract the user. There are interchangeable side panels in different colours (though – small gripe – these don’t seem to fit too well, on our C15.)

The C15 might be a replacement for the original My Tobii P10 eye gaze computer, (no longer made) in that the large 15” screen area allows display of more symbols and text - or larger, more legible symbols that are easier to see and select. The large screen also provides more screen estate for running other Windows applications.

(But if you only want to run Windows applications, and don’t want a communication aid, the other P10 replacement you might want to look at is the PC Eye - which CALL has also just bought for the loan bank – see separate CALL Blog item, coming soon!)

The C12 is comparable in size & weight to its nearest AAC competitor, the DynaVox V Max + (which also allows attachment of an eye gaze unit) but for d irect access users, the C12 is significantly bigger and heavier than the DynaVox Maestro or the Vantage Lite.

If a user can access the smaller device, the C12, successfully, it is obviously desirable to have the most compact device possible, and also means the user’s face is not as ‘blocked off’ from communication partners, as it might be by a big device (better for wheelchair driving, too).

As with all CALL’s comp lex communication aids, these devices will be available on loan to CALL assess ment clients (as a priority) and to others who have undergone training in their use. However, these devices are on ‘restricted’ loan in that they will be being used a lot by CALL for assessment, and for demonstrations and training, so not available to people who might just want to ‘have a look’. (NB. The CEye eye gaze control unit is a separate equipment item, and CALL only has one of these, so it can only be attached to the C12 or the C15 at any given time, not both.)

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The case against Assistive Technology

By Sally Millar on Monday 8th August, 2011 at 6:16pm

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Here's a wee film called 'The Case Against Assistive Technology' to get everyone going at the beginning of the new session.

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PCS (Boardmaker symbols) App coming soon

By Sally Millar on Tuesday 2nd August, 2011 at 9:59am

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Aha!  Mayer Johnson are publishing an app for iPad and iPod / iPhone,  iOS 3.1.3 and above

It's coming 'soon'. It will be free.

It sounds like it will be especially useful for learning new symbols, and for practising, familiarising and and consolidating knowledge of symbols and their meanings.  May be especially popular as 'homework' with parents and also sounds like some quite fun games (bingo matching etc.),  Could also be valuable as a trainer for working on mastery of that 'iPad flick'.

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