Smart interactive whiteboards
Video and voice conferencing
Supporting the numerous learning styles within any class is a challenge for all teachers, however at RNCB, there is the additional consideration of the diversity of legibility preferences.
Visual impairment covers a whole spectrum, from people who are only slightly affected to the very small proportion who are totally blind and cannot distinguish light from dark. Few people realise that complete blindness affects only a small minority of people, nor that only 3 per cent of people registered blind and partially sighted use Braille.
Impact on learning
The most obvious impact of blindness or partial sight on learning basic skills is that learners are not able to access standard ‘written’ text or numbers. Teachers of partially sighted children have to ensure that suitable alternative formats are available. The challenge for schools and colleges supporting partially sighted students is that there is not just one format that suits all. Most partially sighted people have their own preferred system of accessing information. Even legibility depends on many factors. The most common preferences include one or a combination of the following: large print, various combinations of print colours to background colour, audio, or Braille.
Technology has had a huge impact on the capacity of blind and partially sighted people to access information. As technology advances, the options for blind and partially sighted people continue to increase.
The Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford, has over 130 years experience in delivering programmes to people who are blind or partially sighted. Over 35 programmes encompass all areas of the curriculum and support progression into Higher Education. Staff at the RNCB continually research and evaluate the various technologies on offer, to find solutions to suit each of the 180 Partially Sighted Students. Every year, more people who are blind or partially sighted enrol at RNC than any other specialist residential college in the UK.
Individual study is catered for in the College’s Flexible Learning Centre (FLC). Open seven days per week and weekday evenings it has a network of computers, each having the latest technology – low vision aids, CCTVs, screen readers, speech and magnification software. The PCs give unlimited access to the Internet, the College intranet and also personal email accounts. Students can magnify the images and text on the screen, however with the advantages of this, comes the disadvantage of the restriction of the viewable area – resulting in the students continually scrolling horizontally and vertically. With consideration for the benefits of magnification, forward thinking Shirely Evans of the RNCB decided to evaluate a SMART board interactive whiteboard to effectively increase the image size without the need for scrolling. Bristol Education recommended Smarter Solutions as the preferred reseller. Smarter Solutions subsequently provided an on-site demonstration and consultation regarding the optimum use of the board. Seeing an appropriate use for one of SMART Technologie’s software applications, they also demonstrated “SynchronEyes” and value that this would provide.
Supporting the numerous learning styles within any class is a challenge for all teachers, however at RNCB, working with some students at PCs each having colour, font style and size preferences, with others in front of the Interactive Whiteboard, adds additional challenges. To manage the diversity of the student legibility preferences, RNCB do use SMART’s SynchronEyes software application. “The use of SynchronEyes to link groups of PCs so the Visually Impaired learner can follow what you are writing on the SMART board on their own screen allows the lecturer to give a lecture more in a way that they would to fully sighted learners, allowing more flexibility and spontaneity”, explains Shirley. The students can also save their preferred viewing style on the network.
The evaluation confirmed Shirley’s idea, and Smarter Solutions implemented the board and carried out 2 on-site training sessions. While some students still found it easier to see images on a PC screen, others found that the SMART Board provided the ideal answer.
“Using the SMART Board Interactive Whiteboard has provided a completely versatile way of teaching to different student styles”, explains Shirley. “Students of all sightedness are experiencing a fresh perspective on learning. ICT is empowering pupils to manage their own studying in a style right for them,” declares Lesley Wells from the RNCB Research Task Force. “Together, we are pushing the boundaries of IT capabilities and discovering abundant resources on-line. Stepping into this brave new world is made easier for teachers, as the student’s enthusiasm and fearless approach towards new technology spurs them on”.
“Before we knew anything about the Prep Grant, there were several reasons for our decision to invest in a SMART Board,” explains Shirley. “Originally, with the difficulties that our students have, we found it to be very robust. As we always have to consider costs, the fact that all new versions of the software application that comes with the board can be upgraded free of charge was also a key consideration.
The touch sensitivity was something that was also a major benefit for our students. The use of Interactive Whiteboard pens is not ideal for all the students, as location of the pens is an additional burden, so the touch sensitivity of the SMART Board was preferable.”
Other software used at RNCB includes the latest upgrade of SMART Board Interactive Whiteboard software (free to download from the smartboard web site), which offers the ability to record the boards written activity including voice. This is a particularly useful tool for the Visually Impaired Students.
For further information on The Royal National College for the Blind, visit: www.rncb.ac.uk