Engaging students through collaborative learning tools

Looking for ideas on how to engage new students this academic session? Struggling to get students to work effectively on projects outside the classroom, especially those who may be more introverted in groups?

Perhaps one of a range of available collaborative learning tools (CLTs) could be the answer? CLTs lend themselves equally well to courses delivered online, or face to face.

photo of suzanne ehrlichDr Suzanne Ehrlich of the University of Cincinnati has experience of using a range of tools to great effect in her online courses for sign language interpreters.

In a guest webinar for BRITE, Dr Ehrlich discussed what online collaboration actually means – and the challenges involved. She also provided demonstrations of some of her favourite CLTs (VoiceThread, Glogster, Google Community and Dipity) and talked about how to integrate these tools to coursework to promote critical thinking and co-creation of knowledge.

A recording of ‘Engaging students through collaborative learning tools’ is free to view any time in our webinar archive, or skip to the slides here, which contain lots of links to useful resources.

Transforming support for d/Deaf students

Innovations in technology and the vital role of skilled professionals

In May 2014, BRITE and Nated Scotland curated an international conference hosted at Edinburgh University, where 100 delegates came together to evaluate a range of cutting edge strategies to support d/Deaf students at college and university. Two key themes of the day were the potential of mobile and web-based technology to revolutionise the provision of communication services, and the vital importance of skilled professionals to manage and deliver support for students.

iPad photo_Edit The image shows a sign language interpreter at the University of Cincinnati communicate with a student. The student accesses live video of the interpreter on his iPad. He could be based elsewhere on campus, or even off-campus e.g. having an informal study session at a classmate’s home. This system provides students with a new level of flexibility in how they access communication services. Research into the implications of this mode of service delivery was the subject of our keynote presentation.

A summary of the presentations and key topics follows. To request a copy of the conference brochure, transcripts of the presentations, or copies of slides, please contact Kellie Mote at kmote@brite.ac.uk.

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Ai-Media article on our recent conference

ai liveAt our recent conference on Supporting Deaf Students at College and University, we were delighted to welcome Denise Bob-Jones of Ai-Media to deliver a presentation in partnership with Strathclyde University on remote live captioning. Ai-Media’s remote live captioning service, Ai-Live, also generously provided captioning during the morning session of the conference. As well as providing access to the content of presentations for many delegates, it was valuable for everyone to see the service working in a real world context. Ai-Media has posted an article reflecting on the conference. Click here to read the Ai-Media article.

Spellchecking software –some initial findings

I’ve been developing a minor obsession with spell-checking software lately. This arose from noting that the spell-checking in Google Drive (previously called Google Docs) was pretty good and seemed to give decent results.  These results were also reached without the need for two separate checks – spelling and homophones.  The reason for these results and dispensing with the homophone check is that Google Drive analyses the spelling errors in context of the sentence. The more commonly used spellcheckers seem to analyse each error individually.  The other power that Google Drive has is a database of all the spelling errors made by everyone who has ever typed in a Google search. Continue reading

Developing a learning culture through reflective practice

Sandra StrathieWhich methods do you use to reflect on your professional practice? How do you know what’s working (and what could be improved) in your interactions with colleagues, students, or service users? Many workplaces, most recently Glasgow Psychological Services, have explored the VERP (Video Enhanced Reflective Practice) model. VERP facilitates reflective practice enhanced by the use of video clips of real life situations, focusing on interaction. These interactions might be in the context of assessments, or building relationships with service users. In this article, guest contributor Sandra Strathie introduces the VERP method. To learn more and pose questions about how this technique may be applied to your work, join us for a free dedicated webinar on Wed 26th February 2014.

What is Video Enhanced Reflective Practice (VERP)?

Simply put, it is reflective practice that is enhanced by the use of video clips of real life practice situations. For example a manager films part of a meeting, a teacher films her interactions with pupils, an early years worker films a group activity. The focus is on the interaction in whatever context the person is in.

In some VERP courses such as ‘A Nurturing Approach to Developmental Assessment’ it supports the development of worker’s assessment skills. Courses can be tailored to the requirements of the organisation, for example, ‘The Art of Effective Communication’ was developed for residential workers working with young people, building on relationship-based practice.

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Interesting Technology from BETT 2014

For those unfamiliar with BETT, it is the largest educational technology exhibition in Europe.  Taking place annually in London, there are over 600 exhibitors including massive companies such as Google, Dell, Intel and Microsoft.  The interesting stuff, from an Additional Support for Learning perspective, is generally on the smaller exhibition stands, though there is plenty from the larger manufacturers which may be suitable for those with Additional Support Needs.

I’ve summarised my highlights below.  For summary of my tweets during the event, including pictures go to: http://storify.com/FilMcIntyre/fil-s-bett-2014


2014-01-23 17.40.39There were multiple stands showing many different iPad cases, but this one caught my attention. Kensington have a rubbery case called a SafeGrip which surrounds the iPad, but also has a handle.  Great for students who struggle with carrying equipment. http://bit.ly/safegrip

Tech21 make cases from a polymer which adjusts to pressure so should create better resistance to being dropped.  They have a range of cases, but more significantly screen covers which protect against impact to the screen (the most vulnerable part of any tablet). https://www.tech21.com/

Intel was showing a ruggedized Windows tablet – The StudyBook- which should stand up to a fair amount of abuse. Significantly the screen was protected.  The person on the stand took great delight in repeatedly dropping a large ball- bearing onto the screen.  See a video here

2014-01-24 14.46.10Rather than rely on a case to supply a handle, Samsung have produced a version of their Tab 3, 7 inch Android tablet for education which has a handle built in.  The disadvantage?  It is bright yellow and blue.  http://bit.ly/samsungeducation


There are currently two pieces of software designed to support emergent eye-gaze users (Eye-FX and Look to Learn).  Inclusive technology were showing previews of their software package – Inclusive Eye Gaze Learning Curve – which comes out later in the year.  The first title focusses on Attention and Looking and provides a progression of engaging activities to assess and develop eye-gaze users. http://www.inclusive.co.uk/inclusive-eye-gaze-p6501

Audio Notetaker is a great piece of software from Sonocent. They have now released a version for iOS (iPad/Phone etc.).  Called “Recorder” it enables students to record live audio of a lecture and mark the important points as they go along.  The result can later be uploaded to the full version of Audio Notetaker for further revision and linking to PowerPoint slides or images. http://www.sonocent.com/en/the_software/recorder/


2014-01-24 10.44.58

Since production of the Flip video camera ceased I’ve been looking for an alternative which is as easy to use, but not expensive.  TTS have produced one which seems to fit the bill.  It feels a bit plasticy, but is simple to use and has a built in USB plug to transfer the content.  It also has a 4GB SD card and HDMI output. http://bit.ly/ttscam

Beamz is a very unusual and accessible way to play music.  For students who are unable to hold or play  a standard instruments, Beamz provides 4 laser beams which, when broken by a hand or object, will trigger sounds from an attached computer. http://thebeamz.com/

Fil McIntyre

Assistive Technologist, The BRITE Initiative

MyGaze Eye Gaze Device

MyGaze device being placed on a monitorNote: this article assumes some previous knowledge of eye gaze technology.

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been borrowing a MyGaze device from Visual Interaction a German company.  MyGaze is an eye tracking device similar to devices which have been on the market for a while (Tobii PCEyeGo, Alea IntelliGaze).  The big difference?  The developer version of MyGaze is currently selling at €499 (about £420).

It must be mentioned at the outset that the MyGaze device has not been developed with Assistive Technology in mind, I was just keen to find out if it could be a more affordable eye gaze solution for PC Access and Communication.

Mygaze device attached to a monitor           MyGaze attached to a laptop

The MyGaze is a fairly compact device, the photos show it attached to a standard monitor and laptop.  One big advantage which is immediately apparent is the 1.8 metre USB cable, great if your laptop or tower is a distance from your monitor. 

After a quick 5-point calibration the MyGaze seemed to follow my gaze accurately. The MyGaze configuration tool has a “Live Gaze” view which shows the position of your eyes being tracked on screen.  After this I thought I’d try some control in the Windows environment.  The first hurdle to this was that as standard MyGaze doesn’t force the
cursor to follow your eyes (remember it is a developer tool).  To do this I needed to track down the MyGaze Cursor application* which can be downloaded from the MyGaze website.

Once this was all set up I tried some simple Windows control e.g. clicking on things, launching programs etc.  I tried this both with using a mouse to click and using dwell click software (Smartbox’s Dwell Clicker 2).  MyGaze isn’t really accurate enough to achieve this level of control.  The cursor drifts and moves around as you are trying to click and this is means that when using dwell click it is impossible to stay on the target long enough for the click to occur.  Tobii’s Windows Control and Gaze Interaction applications are designed to counteract this by zooming in on the target.  See notes below about future developments from MyGaze.

My next trial was with three pieces of software designed to be used with eye gaze: Eye-FX, Look to Learn and Tobii Communicator.  Both Eye-FX and Look to Learn are designed for new or developing eye gaze users and as such have large targets and easy to access activities. MyGaze worked very effectively with both of these applications.  Accuracy wise I didn’t notice any difference to using them with Tobii’s PCEyeGo.  A usability difference was not having the annoyance of the Tobii Windows Control toolbar popping out from the edge of the screen every time I looked at it.

When it came to using Communicator software the results were mixed.  Communicator has a dwell-click function built in, or there is the option to use a switch to select.  When using dwell-click the issue is the same as with controlling Windows: If the target is too small it is not possible to dwell on it for long enough.  I was very successful using grids with large cells e.g. 5×4 or 6×4, but this accuracy decreased as the size of cell decreased.  Using a keyboard layout was just about manageable with a switch click, but the drift mentioned earlier made it tricky.  I’m prepared to accept that this might just be a question of practising more and getting used to this system.  I did find I had greater accuracy when using the unit on a standard monitor, rather than mounted below a laptop screen, despite performing a more complex calibration (featuring a set-square) to set up the laptop mounting.

Unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to try the MyGaze with any current eye-gaze users. I wanted to see how well it performed with head movement and with users moving in and out of the track box (the area within which it can still keep a fix on a user’s eyes).  The plan is to pass the MyGaze onto Beaumont College and National Star College where they should be able to ask some current eye-gaze users to experiment.

In conclusion, MyGaze is an interesting development in eye gaze technology which may well challenge the current level of pricing in the eye gaze market.  The user interface is not as slick as some others and is obviously aimed at developers rather than an end user.  If the MyGaze Cursor tool could be integrated into the main configuration, along with keyboard shortcuts to pause the interaction, then I could see uses for it in an Assistive Technology context.  Those uses would currently be limited to users who were working at a basic level with large targets or relatively few cells in a communication grid.  For fine control in a Windows environment an additional tool will be required, like Tobii’s Gaze Selection software.  For control in communication software a company like Smartbox will need to fine-tune The Grid 2 to work with MyGaze (much as they have with the other main eye-gaze technologies).

Mainly due to the interface I won’t currently be recommending MyGaze to end users as an assistive technology solution.  However, I’ll be keeping a careful eye on how the MyGaze software develops and whether the price stays at its current level.

*Many thanks to Mick Donegan from Special Effect for his assistance

Visual Interaction provided the following information about future developments of MyGaze:

  • we are working with Mick Donegan on an eye mouse based on his recommendation, internally known as ‘Mick’s Mouse’. It will provide all you mention in terms of zooming, smoothing and dwell and expect to have the beta out by Jan. The accuracy problems will be solved completely then by the software.
  • some software (like Look to Learn) will be made out of box and solved in our store at v competitive price. Other, like The Grid and Rolltalk will have tailor-made interface developed by us or the original SW developer. This is still in discussion phase regarding time, but so that you know what to expect.
  • software for special needs school is also in development.

BRITE webinars and articles: guide for guest contributors

At BRITE we are passionate about sharing innovative ideas and experiences which relate to inclusive practice in education. We welcome contributions from practitioners who would like to engage with our community of professionals. We offer two ways to do this:

  • deliver a guest presentation in our popular free webinar series, and/or
  • write an article on a relevant topic for The BRITE Blog


Reach a wider audience. BRITE webinars and blog articles are publicised online and in the BRITE eNews which currently has over 600 subscribers. This number includes college staff development officers; teaching, lecturing and support staff in colleges and universities; and a range of professionals in the public and voluntary sector.

Experiment with web-based presentations – with full support from experienced facilitators. We take care of all the technical aspects of webinars, from uploading your slides and video clips, to managing incoming questions from attendees. If you’d rather not deliver a live webinar, we can record you in advance. We’ll facilitate the webinar remotely, or you can visit our office if you’d prefer.

Access a recording of your online presentation anytime, anywhere. All BRITE webinars are added to a public archive, to which you can direct anyone interested in your work. Many people choose to view previously recorded webinars ‘on demand’ at a time that suits them.

Next steps

Webinars are usually 30 minutes long. Access our webinar archive to get a feel for the medium and the kind of topics covered.

Blog articles should be around 500 words and be accompanied by at least one photograph or image (jpg please). Word documents or html are preferred.

Send us a brief outline of your subject, so that we can ensure it fits with our webinar programme and/or blog content. Then we’ll work with you to identify a date for broadcast or publication.

We’ll meet you online in advance to give you an opportunity to familiarise yourself with the webinar environment (the industry-leading eLearning platform, Adobe Connect) and to get some top tips from one of our experienced facilitators.

Please submit initial enquiries to the Resources and Communications Co-ordinator at kmote@brite.ac.uk.

We’re currently planning the webinar programme for 2014, so if you are interested in guesting, please contact us as soon as possible. Blog articles may be submitted anytime throughout the year.

Tablet accessibility

A presentation on ‘Bring Your Own Accessibility’ by BRITE assistive technologist, Fil McIntyre, earned Highly Commended status for the Hans-Heinrich Bothe Award 2013.

The Hans-Heinrich Bothe Award is given to the author and presenter of the Best Paper at the ENABLE International Conference on Using New Technologies for Inclusive Learning and is voted for by the conference delegates.

If you’d like a flavour of what the delegates at the ENABLE conference rated so highly, pop along to our free 30 minute webinar on Wednesday 9th October at 11:00 BST to hear Fil’s take on tablet accessibility.

Update 10.10.13… a recording of the tablet accessibility webinar is now available in the webinar archive.

A BRITE approach to eLearning

All BRITE courses – including SQA-accredited Professional Development Awards in Inclusiveness, Dyslexia and Learning Support – are available to study entirely online.

eLearning has obvious benefits in removing geographical barriers, minimising time away from other commitments and reducing environmental impact. BRITE also sees eLearning as an opportunity to employ a diverse mix of learning tools and to create real communities of practitioners.

“I really enjoyed the online learning experience. I had taken part in online learning more than ten years ago and did not like the solitude of the experience. However, obviously as technology has progressed so has the online learning environment.  I loved the idea that my peers were literally spread across the length and breadth of Britain. This meant we had a widespread view of learning and support.” Participant, vPDA Dyslexia

The live, virtual classroom experience sits at the core of each of our courses. Using the industry-leading video conferencing platform, Adobe Connect, our virtual classrooms involve presentations, group tasks and opportunities for questions and discussions. All live sessions are recorded and made available to the class to revisit. Early in the development of our eLearning, our use of virtual classrooms won recognition from Adobe when we were featured as an Adobe Success Story.

“I was cautious when first approaching online learning as this was a very new experience for me! I found the experience a positive one overall, and found that the group gelled well after a few sessions. This was helped by the fact that group tasks are integrated into every session and allow group members to get to know one another virtually by sharing ideas and examples of good practice.” Participant, vPDA Dyslexia

In addition to the live virtual classroom experience, course participants benefit from on-going tasks, building an ePortfolio and contributing to discussions via a customised Moodle forum and email alerts.

Comprehensive background reading and engaging videos are also provided, to be accessed when convenient. Tasks typically involve participants reflecting on their own practice and learning from the experiences of others on the course.

“I have just completed a very interesting and worthwhile course with BRITE and on reflection I think that it is one of the best CPD courses I have ever been involved in. Everyone at BRITE should be delighted with their new course, I hope that many more people in support roles will avail themselves of it.” Participant, vMCB (Managing Challenging Behaviour, a component of PDA Learning Support)

Interested in developing your own web-based course and looking for some help? Contact us on enquiries@brite.ac.uk or on +44 (0)1383 749605 to ask about consultancy, training and hosting.