Adapted Services and Mobile Applications: Inclusive Tools for Supporting Success and Healthy Lifestyles
To highlight Hooked on School Days 2016 (Journées de la persévérance scolaire), Profweb met with a Special Education Technician in order to share ICT resources that aim to support student success at the college level.
The Adapted Services team at CEGEP Lévis-Lauzon equipped themselves with 2 digital tablets (Android and iOS), in the fall semester of 2015 in order to get familiar with technologies that students are using more and more frequently. We were mandated to find different applications that promote the development of academic aptitudes. It’s an explorative approach that the CEGEP has undertaken before proceeding to buy new technological devices.
My interventions usually involve students, even though I am sometimes called upon to support teachers who are using adaptive practices to respond to the specific needs of certain students with disabilities. However, the most frequent issues I respond to as part of my interventions can generally be summarized as belonging to the following trio:
- Time management (organisation, prioritising, procrastination)
- Development of study strategies
- Managing anxiety
These problems are obviously not exclusive to students with disabilities. Incidentally, Adapted Services plans on creating a bulletin board where interesting apps for students will be posted since our offices are strategically located at the end of a hallway that leads to the student café. In the course of my exploration with the tablets, I mostly opted for free apps out of interest in making things accessible. I will present a selection of my findings below.
The Omnivox platform has a mobile application for iOS and Android. Students can receive alerts on their devices and have access to their schedule, their assignments and deadlines, and to their internal messaging service, which is MIO from LEA. Students can also create events with alerts.
Examples of the Omnivox Mobile interface. The app is also available in English.
Digital calendars (whether on their cell phone, tablet or in Omnivox) allow students to see intensive periods for assignment deadlines and exams coming in advance. Furthermore, the students always have this information within reach. I strongly encourage students to use the calendar function included with their smart phone, notably to remember their appointment with me! They can create several alerts for the same event, which allows them to program reminders. This method of time management is simple and is increasingly accessible.
All Apple devices offer the Reminders application, which creates a list of tasks that can be checked off.
When it is used in conjunction with the digital calendar, these 2 tools help to visualise the time remaining for a task and to determine what must get done and when.
Generally, I really like applications that make it possible to visualise time. Stopwatches and timers with an visual display like TimeTimer (from $1 to $3) are very useful for getting organised and managing time. Using the same principle as a good old kitchen timer, students can use an application on their tablet or cellphone to structure their study time and their break time (for example, 50 minutes of studying, 10 minutes of break). A countdown application is already installed on the majority of cell phones. A few tips:
- Check that the timer application has a sufficient duration. Ideally, the application should allow for a minimum of a 1-hour countdown.
- During a study session, make sure to put the mobile device in airplane mode, in order to not receive any calls or notices. This will help to avoid distractions.
- As cell phones are forbidden while writing exams, teachers could project a countdown on the board, opting for a tool that includes a digital display in order to ensure that all students can easily understand the time, as some students continue to have difficulty telling time with an analog clock.
The application TimeTimer offers different displays making it easy to visualize time lapses in a variety of ways.
Procraster : This application works on the principle of micro-rewards. It allows a list of tasks to be created and a timed duration to be attributed to each. Every work session ends with a reward that is predetermined by the user (get a coffee, scroll through Facebook). The application displays the percentage of the task that has been accomplished, which helps the user to better visualise their progress. In cases where no progress has been recorded for a task, the application questions the user to discover the cause of procrastinating using various statements. For example: My task is too big, I don’t know where to start….and the application then offers advice and tips. It’s a very intuitive application. One of my students used it and really appreciated its humorous tone. The only downside for me is that is only works on Apple devices (iOS).
In cases where no progress has been recorded for a task, the application Procraster questions the user to determine why they are procrastinating. Tips and advice are suggested to the user according to the answer.
Technological Support for Studying
Part of my workload consists of accompanying students with particular difficulties in class. In many cases, note taking, structuring and retaining the information that needs to be learned causes problems. Various technological support tools that can be useful for students with disabilities exist, but they could be beneficial to others as well. Here, I am thinking in particular of:
- Screen Reader Tools are generally used to help with comprehension while reading text. For example, a student can use it to read a digital book (the tool helps with reading and maintains the attention of the student because they are listening at the same time). Voice synthesis can facilitate editing a text and correcting a written assignment (the tool checks various elements such as the fluidity of the text, coherence, it helps to detect errors, etc.).
- Tools specifically created for people with dyslexia or dysorthographia, such as the OpenDyslexic font. It uses visual cues, like heavy-weighted bottoms on certain letters, to make it easier to distinguish between the confusing letters, such as the letters b and p. OpenDyslexic is compatible with computers, mobile devices and internet navigators. A teacher that uploads text into a digital learning management system could decide to offer a second version of the text that uses this typeface or make their Word version available online so that students could convert the document themselves. The conversion only takes a few seconds, but it makes the exercise of reading and understanding much easier for the students with these types of difficulties.
The OpenDyslexic typeface
- Mind mapping and brainstorming tools such as CmapTools or SmartArt (included in the Microsoft Office suite), for creating illustrative diagrams or flowcharts. These are useful on many levels and not only for students with learning difficulties - they also make memorizing information easier, allowing students to structure their ideas while improving their procedural memory.
Finally, anything that makes teamwork and collaboration easier is useful. Students are increasingly working in teams as part of their courses, but their schedules outside of regular class time are rarely compatible. Many are holding down jobs, some have a family, while others return to their parents’ house on weekends. Reconciling these different realities can create time management problems and increase anxiety for some students.
- Using cloud-based storage space (iCloud, One Drive, Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.) can therefore be an excellent way to save time and avoid moving from one place to another, since all of the students can work on the same document at a distance, in real time!
- Access to these services is free for users who have a Gmail, Hotmail or Outlook account.
Stress Management and Support for Healthy Lifestyle Habits
Among the various supporting factors that promote student success, you should not underestimate the importance of healthy lifestyle habits. And there’s an app for that! In fact, a few examples come to mind.
For stress or anxiety management, I recommend the application RespiRelax. You simply adjust your breathing to follow the movement that appears on-screen. Breathing slower and deeper helps control the onset of stress and the heart rate. Many students tell me that they have found this app to be effective, although it needs to be integrated into your daily routine. Students say that it helps them to relax, especially at night, since it helps you to fall asleep. A good’s night sleep is important for concentration. At the moment this application is only available in French.
Adapt your breathing to the movement that appears on-screen in the RespiRelax app. The settings can be configured according to your needs.
For managing emotions or to increase concentration, I really like Google Play Music (formally Songza). It’s a free and legal streaming music site. The user can choose a playlist of music from suggestions that correspond to the time of day and the type of task they wish to do, or even according to their mood. There are playlists of music that are custom-made for working, studying, relaxing or even to motivate yourself.
- This tool will appeal to students who like listening to music while studying, while ensuring that the music selection is conducive to the task at hand.
- A teacher could use it in class while students are working in small groups. From my experiences helping students, I have noticed that playing background music often influences natural adjustments to the tone of voice. This helps increase concentration since the level of noise in the class does not get too loud.
I recently discovered Pacifica for Stress and Anxiety (free version). Contrary to what the name might suggest, it is not only for users who experience anxiety. This application fits well into a process of improving your lifestyle. It allows the user to record their mood, their sleep and physical exercise habits, as well as their caffeine, alcohol or tobacco consumption. Used on a daily basis, the application generates a progression diagram. Over a longer time span, the user can monitor whether the different elements have had an influence on mood, energy levels, health or even on academic performance.
Pacifica allows for daily monitoring of mood and lifestyle habits.
Above and beyond the academic component, there is the important “finding yourself” component that is an integral part of the college experience. This application becomes an interesting personal monitoring tool to introduce to students as part of physical education courses, or a for-credit complementary course (ex. a Stress Management course).
For applications that are more specifically linked to disability situations or for your training needs, you should feel free to consult a specialist from Adapted Services and meet with your Education Advisor to find out about workshops offered by the college network or to help you adapt your course content as needed.