My Interest in AT and UDL
Some of my readers are aware of my strong interest in assistive technology and universal design for learning (UDL), but you probably don’t know that several years ago my interest became an urgent need to learn as much as I could. It began when our oldest son was diagnosed with Asperger’s, and continued when our second son was diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia. For the next few years after those diagnoses, I read everything I could find on those topics, including assistive technologies to help them communicate and learn. I learned how to create social stories, got trained in the Orton-Gillingham reading method, and experimented with dozens and dozens of programs and mobile apps to find things that would work for us.
This year we reached a critical point. Our second son started fifth grade still struggling with reading at grade level, and based on the previous years’ experience, I knew how difficult science vocabulary would be for him. The school’s textbook did not have an audio version available, so I decided to make audio recordings of every reading assignment. He needs multi-sensory input–audio, visual, and kinesthetic–for complicated vocabulary and ideas to stick. Though we could have read each assignment aloud together, he and I thought the recordings would be a good idea because they are reusable. He listened to each audio recording and followed along in his textbook, which helped his reading and retention. We saved all of the recordings for this school year, and he used them whenever he needed to study for a quiz or test.
The first thing I decided was that we needed the audio files to live on an iPad so he could take it anywhere. I scoured the web for audio recording apps, and narrowed my list down to about six. My criteria were:
- The app must be easy to use, both for me and for him. My son should be able to use it autonomously.
- The app must be free or relatively inexpensive.
- The app must have good playback. Unclear recordings would not be helpful.
I installed and tested the apps on an iPad 3. For testing purposes, I read aloud the same page from the science textbook into each app and saved the file. After going through my recording phase, I had my son listen to all of the recordings and try using the apps himself. We had to spread it out over several days to accommodate his attention span, but at the end of our testing we had one clear winner: AudioNote from Luminant Software.
To start with, AudioNote met all of my criteria. We found it very easy to use, and my 10-year-old son was able to learn it in just a few minutes. The price for the full version is right, just $4.99. The recordings are clear and easy to understand. The free version of the software limits recordings to five minutes, and there are no limitations on the paid version. The software is available for iPad, Android, Windows, and Mac, and the files can be transferred across platforms using Dropbox.
The software has other features that we like. It lets you type or draw notes on the screen, and time stamps the notes to align with the audio recording. Sometimes my son doodles a picture or writes a word onscreen while listening, and all of those notes are saved with the audio. In the screenshot below, he drew an example of a river created by glacial movement, and added arrows to show water flow.
We think the notes feature will be extra helpful as he makes the transition to middle school, because he can record explanations by teachers or group interactions and then draw or make notes to go along with the audio. He can even take photos and embed them in the note. We are very happy that he will use this on his BYOT tablet.
Thanks for reading!