This post was created by PGCert participants in Team Mars 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.
Within Higher Education dyslexia is one of the most self-declared disabilities in the UK (Higher Education Statistics Agency, 2005). It is defined as a “specific learning difficulty that mainly affects the development of literacy and language skills” (Singleton, 2008).
Persistent difficulties that individuals with dyslexia face in Higher Education include verbal and written communication, lecture notes and written assignments (McLoughlin et al 1994). “The ability to synthesise information is one of the essential skills required by HE students” (Price, 2006). This activity in turn can have an impact on student self-esteem, self-confidence, especially when written work attracts criticism for poor grammar punctuation and spelling.
Such factors within dyslexic students do not reflect their true ability and can act as a barrier to the development and learning progress. While exploring how tutors can use technology to support dyslexic students, there are a number of different tools available focused on supporting written work. The easiest to access and user-friendly tool would be the spellcheck, integrated across Microsoft 365, Word, PowerPoint, Excel. The tool is automatically activated and highlights any spelling punctuation and grammar error to be corrected.
However, in an ever-increasing digitalised world, students are spending more time learning online and using a variety of platforms to support learning, creating content including written assignments. Whilst programs such as Microsoft 365 provide support for written work, it is only accessible if used within their supported programs.
A leading market tool that can support dyslexic students in their learning and preparation of work online is Grammarly. It is one of the most popular artificial intelligence-powered automatic proofreading grammar and punctuation checker tools, which helps individuals to write better. It supports multiple online applications, from Google Workspace, to producing creative content in platforms such as Canva, but also seamlessly integrates with MS Word and Outlook. It can also be downloaded to personal devices.
The benefits of the app are:
- It detects grammar and punctuation mistakes and gives real-time suggestions and guidelines on how to correct them.
- It is a robust spell-check tool that keeps your writing mistake-free.
- It detects plagiarism, by comparing your writing to billions of web pages.
- It helps to self-edit your work by providing real-time insight into your readability score and sentence-length.
- It explains every error in detail, which helps you in learning and improving your writing overall.
Grammarly is an inclusive support tool that can be accessed and downloaded for free to a browser through the Chrome extension webstore. This gives students free function support and guidance in creating written work online with confidence. Supporting the learning theory of Vygotsky’s social constructivism “enables the responsibility for the task to the student as the major goal of scaffolding in teaching”, Mercer and Fisher (1993). Using collaborative learning techniques supported by technology with a “scaffolding system is able to enhance this competency of learners in higher education” (Deejring et al, 2012).
There is a further option to pay a monthly subscription of £7.50 for additional functionality. The drawback of the app is that due to dyslexia being a phonological awareness deficit, whilst the app supports written work, reading may still be a significant issue. This may impact on the construction of sentences and spelling of longer words.
There has never been a greater time for tech to provide great inclusive learning for dyslexic students. Tools such as Grammarly enable a thriving dyslexic with a growth mindset, who works around the condition of dyslexia, to effectively problem solve and be inspired by the belief that they are not all about ‘what’s wrong,’ but also possess unique strengths to override the wrong (Kannangara, 2015).
Mortimore, T. and Crozier, W.R., 2006. Dyslexia and difficulties with study skills in higher education. Studies in higher education, 31(2), pp.235-251.
Pavey, B., Meehan, M. and Waugh, A., 2009. Dyslexia-friendly further and higher education. Sage.
Price, G.A., 2006. Creative solutions to making the technology work: three case studies of dyslexic writers in higher education. ALT-J, 14(1), pp.21-38.
Verenikina, I., 2003. Understanding scaffolding and the ZPD in educational research.
Deejring, K., 2014. The design of web-based learning model using collaborative learning techniques and a scaffolding system to enhance learners’ competency in higher education. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 116, pp.436-441.
Kannangara, C.S., 2015. From languishing dyslexia to thriving dyslexia: Developing a new conceptual approach to working with people with dyslexia. Frontiers in psychology, 6, p.1976.