This post was created by PGCert participants in Team Mercury as part of their assessment for Unit 1 of the course. The brief was to evaluate technologies that could help students with specific learning needs to learn more effectively.
This summary is the outcome of research we have conducted during our PGCert course as a team. We are sharing some main learning difficulties students with Dyslexia are facing and the technologies that we consider useful in overcoming these. We also explain the use of the AT bar application, that can support the learner in viewing and interacting on web pages. A short video demonstration of this technology is included.
Main characteristics of learning difficulties with Dyslexia
We have identified some challenges for learners with Dyslexia that present themselves particularly in Further Education (FE) and Higher Education (HE). The British Dyslexia Association (BDA, 2018) defines dyslexia as a learning difference primarily affecting reading and writing skills but also information processing and organisational skills (BDA, 2018). Each dyslexic learner is unique (Cooper, 2009:68) and their learning must be addressed specifically.
Some of the main struggles they experience can be related to:
- Not all students with dyslexia have the same learning needs so a flexible solution or inclusivity for all is best.
- Although one in ten people are dyslexic (Made by Dyslexia, n.d.), students often camouflage their disability. Only 10% accept the support being offered to them. (Cooper, 2009:67-76)
- Students with dyslexia may struggle with navigation on a text. However, they find alterations to font size, type, character spacing and larger line spacing can all improve readability (BDA, 2018:5)
- Offering alternatives to white backgrounds for paper, computer and visual aids help with reading. White can appear too dazzling, text on cream or a soft pastel colour can stabilise lettering on the page or screen. Some students with Dyslexia will have their own colour preference. (BDA, 2018:6) (Waters and Torgerson, 2020:228)
- Some students find proof-reading their work or reading text difficult, so text to speech software can be useful to listen back to their written work or read new, large bodies of text. (Dawson et al., 2018)
- Many students suffer from anxiety, lack of self-esteem or depression from lack of diagnosis or experience in previous education settings. (Cooper, 2009:71)
- Some students with dyslexia find it can impact how they are planning ideas and their organisational skills. (BDA, 2018)
It should be noted however that many people with dyslexia are highly creative and even thought to have an advantage in many areas (Eide & Eide: The Dyslexic Advantage, 2011).
Simple changes as discussed above to promote accessibility via technology can benefit all learners, not just those with a specific learning difficulty. As Cooper reminds us, tutors have a central role in advocating relevant support when it comes to assistive technology (Cooper, 2009:77). These actions follow the guidelines in Universal Design for Learning (UDL) (Waywell and Reeves, 2017) and incorporate the legal requirements of the Equality Act 2010.
Which technological tools can address these challenges?
Several individual assistive technologies are available, which have made a significant positive impact on learners such as text-to-speech software. For instance voice recognition, Cooper even argues that some postgraduate students noted reading software has enabled them to complete whole academic books for the first time (Cooper, 2009:80)
We have found other technology that support learners with such as:
Readability – Microsoft OneNote (Reeves, 2019)
Colour filters iPhone magnify tool
Task management -Evernote (Reeves, 2019)
Text to speech – Narrator in Windows, Voice over in iOS (Dawson et al., 2018)
Taking notes – Livescribe
Speech to text -Dragon Naturally Speaking
Planning tools – MindView, Scapple, Coggle
Why we’ve chosen ATbar
ATbar is a free toolbar that can be easily downloaded to browsers on different operating systems. The tool bar can be used to help all students customise the way they view and interact with web pages.
Having tested various technologies, we found this was flexible, easy to use on any device and had multi functions to support learners with Dyslexia.
Once downloaded, ATbar can quickly provide multiple accessibility functions, including:
- text to speech
- changes in font and text layout
- coloured overlays to reduce glare of black text on white backgrounds.
As we have noted in the research, changes in text, font and spacing (also known as tracking), coloured backgrounds, magnification and text to speech software can all assist in understanding. Our research, including primary research with students and learning support professionals, allowed us to discover that many students camouflage or do not ask for help. As also noted in this research on assistive technologies:
“students with dyslexia may view using AT unfavourably if it makes them stand out from their peers or otherwise stigmatizes them. Students with dyslexia may be most apt to adopt ATs that blur the boundaries between AT and everyday technologies.” (Dawson et al., 2018:236)
We therefore feel that having something students can quickly, simply download, and use unobtrusively across many browsers on phones or laptops is ideal. Particularly, as many library research sources are online and with all students currently working online, it is useful to have technology support in this area.
ATbar. (n.d.). ATbar. [online] Available at: http://access.ecs.soton.ac.uk/blog/atbar/ [Accessed 28 Jan. 2021].
British Dyslexia Association (2009). What is dyslexia? – British Dyslexia Association. [online] British Dyslexia Association. Available at: https://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/dyslexia/about-dyslexia/what-is-dyslexia.
British Dyslexia Association (2018). Dyslexia friendly style guide – British Dyslexia Association. [online] British Dyslexia Association. Available at: https://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/advice/employers/creating-a-dyslexia-friendly-workplace/dyslexia-friendly-style-guide
Cooper, R. (2009) Dyslexia. In: Pollack, David (ed.) Neurodiversity in Higher Education: Positive Responses to Specific Learning Differences. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, pp. 63-90.
Dawson, K., Antonenko, P., Lane, H. and Zhu, J. (2018). Assistive Technologies to Support Students With Dyslexia. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 51(3), pp.226–239.
Dobson Waters, S. and Torgerson, C.J. (2020). Dyslexia in higher education: a systematic review of interventions used to promote learning. Journal of Further and Higher Education, pp.1–31.
Eide, B., and Eide, F. (2011) ‘The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain’ Hayhouse. Available at: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=jSwtd_L8dkYC&lr=&source=gbs_navlinks_s (Accessed 04/02/21)
Reeves, T. (2019) Using Evernote to help with dyslexia. [online] UCA Creative Education Network. Available at: https://creativeeducationnetwork.com/2019/12/19/using-evernote-to-help-with-dyslexia/.