Multimodal Supported Writing

As writing evolves beyond ink and pencils, the nature of text is exploding to include multimodal elements of audio, video, images, games and non linear structures. Multimodal writing is networked, collaborative, driven by feedback and not done in isolation. Multimodal supported writing brings forward the idea of supporting this non traditional, broader definition of text.

The paper embedded below has been submitted as part of the Assistive Technology Graduate Program at the University of Calgary.

Multimodal Supported Writing

Assistive Technology Toolkit: Multimodal Supported Writing Tools

Multimodal writing recognizes that composition is more than just producing words. Writing is evolving beyond ink and pencils, and the nature of text is exploding to include multimodal elements of audio, video, images, games and non linear structures.

Multimodal writing is connected, collaborative, driven by feedback and not done in isolation. Supports and tools for this kind of writing help to refine not only how to support learners, but how sharing and storytelling is moving beyond just the traditional written word.


One way to support non-linear thinking and help student express and organize ideas with pictures, links, and connections is with MindMup, a collaborative, cloud based mindmapping tool.

MindMup is available at It can connect to you Google Drive for storage, sharing and collaborative options, but it can also be stored and accessed on Dropbox and Github. This cloud based collaborative option sets it apart from many other mindmapping tools. Through the Extensions option a user can turn on the collaborative feature. It isn’t on as a default to save processing and loading time, but is easy to do when you turn it on.

Choose Extensions from the top menu and then check the box by the Realtime Collaboration Extension. There are other helpful extensions on this menu including a progress tool and alternate line tool if the curved connectors are visual confusing.

This adds a new tab called collaboration When you click on it up pops a regular Google Drive type charing window to add other collaborators. If you aren’t using the Chrome browser where you automatically sign in to Google, it will prompt you to do so here.

In the collaborators Google account, a new file now exists in Shared With Me in their Drive and an email is sent if this option is selected. They will have to accept Mindmap to be added to Google Drive if they haven’t already.

When the other person is working on the MindMup their profile image pops up beside the node they are working on!

MindMup is a fantastic Assistive Technology (AT) support because it allows students to quickly get out ideas with a minimum of words and time. It is very multimodal as you can drag and drop images, add hyperlinks, and create a map of ideas, a narrative, or non fiction fact collection with a visual tool. As a visual thinking tool it can help create connections, correlations, and facilitate easier communication and expression.

MindMup is a new tool, with great features, but it has it’s places that it could be stronger. The constraints of the tool right now are it doesn’t have a direct way to add videos other than to hyperlink. When you paste a link it does make it active and clickable, and adds a link icon, but the video isn’t embedded, it opens in a new window. The ability to add and change colours is available, but it could be easier as right now you have to click on a node, then change the colour. You can choose select all siblings or select all children to change the colour of a group of nodes at once. Once you insert a photo you can’t resize it at the moment, which is a problem with a large image, it needs to be resized before it is inserted. Inserting a properly sized image is easy though, you can drag and drop it in, then link it to other nodes afterwards. You can add text over images, which is helpful as you can add background images to nodes.

MindMup is free and you can use it without a Google account, but the collaborative feature requires students to have Google accounts. This can be a person Google account, but for those learners under the age of 13 this would require a Google Apps for Education Domain. The base level of MindMup is free, but if you are not saving to your Google Drive space you are limited to 100KB. With a MindMup Gold Subscription of $25 USD/year you get up to 1GB of storage, which can be linked to multiple accounts, such as a group of students in your class. If you save to Google Drive you aren’t saving on their servers so it remains free. As student work is saved on cloud servers, whether it is a Google Drive Dropbox, Github or MindMup server, considerations of privacy need to be examined. Google Apps for Education servers are controlled by a school jurisdiction, and as such are more private and controlled, but students and teachers need to be careful about what kinds of personal data they might be putting on their mindmaps if they are not shared privately.

MindMup allows for creative, nonlinear, collaborative multimodal writing across the cloud on a variety of tools. Consider it as a tool for supporting learners who might struggle with traditional text creation or any learner who wants to express or create in a different medium.


Kaizena is a feedback tool to collaboratively add sound, links, images and feedback to writing. Students can write in the cloud using the Google Documents tool which lives in Google Drive. It is a cloud based word processor which allows for traditional text based writing, but also allows for easy insert of images and video. It is collaborative in nature. With a click of the Share button users can write together from different places and different machines. This means students with writing difficulties can use the tool which best suits them and still work with other learners.

Kaizena further enhances this tool by adding more feedback and markup options. After a doc has been created and populated with content (whether that is text, photos. or videos) you open the document in the Kaizena tool. There are several ways to open the document in the tool.

In a Google Apps for Education Domain Kaizena can be added as a shortcut to the Apps list if a user signs in through Google Chrome. You can also get into the tool by going to the Kaizena site at You will have to log into a Google Account. Then you can choose add document or add folder as appropriate.

It can also be directly added to Google Docs through the recently added Add-ons options. You can add Kaizena as an Add-on, then you can choose to open a created doc in Kaizena through the Add-ons menu.

Once the document is open in Kaizena, this is where you can get creative. You can click on a word and up pops a menu to add voice, text or tags. In the text box you can type ideas or comments.  With the microphone you can record your own voice to provide feedback or add a different audio element to the text. The tag feature is great for adding links to videos, other documents or webpages.

Once the audio, comments, and links have been added on the sidebar choose the feedback receiver from the list of people the document is already shared with. You can choose to post the feedback as a link in the doc or email them the link.

The addition of sound allows students with writing, processing or visual problems to be able to add and receive comments or audio elements to writing. These elements can be added by the author, a peer editor, or a teacher. Anyone who you can share a document with can get the feedback. This makes the collaborative and sharing elements strong. You shared through the Google environment.

Currently the tool is new and you have to open your doc in a completely different program to add the voice, tag and comment feedback or multimodal features, which is a constraint. If voice comments and audio embedding were part of the Google document tool, instead of having to open it separately, it would be easier as opening and adding the audio elements would require fewer steps. Other constraints are requiring a microphone for audio comments, whether a headset or built in microphone. You have to allow access to the microphone the first time, which may require a few clicks to get activated. You can’t directly embed video, but you can link to videos easily through the tag option.

Users do need to have a Google account and feedback can only be shared with those with Google accounts as they have to be shared with on the document.  As with other cloud tools, considerations of privacy and what data is appropriate in the cloud are relevant. Age restrictions are in place. For those under 13, Google Apps for Education accounts need to be created, but if you are over 13 a regular Gmail account can be used. At a district level direct access to the app can be added to the app shortcuts and permission to use add-ons must be granted at the administration level in the Google Apps for Education control panel to be able to access the add-on shortcut.

Kaizena is a tool to allows users to add multimodal elements to a cloud based writing document. It takes the idea of a user typing on a machine to a user working with others on a document, then being able to add audio, feedback, and hyperlinked elements. It enhances the writing experience and makes it accessible to more learners.


If you are stuck in the serial, linear model that writing in a word processor or presentation tool can create, try using the presentation tool Prezi to write a story.  Prezi allows for text, image, video, and sound to be grouped and scaled.  You can create a pathway through elements, as you would in a presentation to create a story.  I have used this idea with students, and some examples of Prezi Storytelling and planning are here: with images below.

Prezi is a click and create tool, you can add minimal or larger chunks of text. You can embed links, video, images and other files right into the canvas to help to create your ideas or story.  It is a collaborative tool. You can add other users to help you create live at the same time.

There are great templates to give you ideas or you can start blank, select a colour palette, or theme and create! Recently spell check features were added to the tool, which is a handy feature when using text. Prezi keeps adding more features and functionality. You can edit on a desktop program now, with a paid premium license. You can add voice overs, create diagrams, add frames to group ideas and media together, and even import from Power Point. This is a great feature because it takes something more traditional and static and allows you to add more multimedia and visual elements.

The constraints of the tool are that you have to create an account to sign in. Student and teachers get free Enjoy level accounts, which gives access to more premium features and cloud based storage space. To access the free education level students need to use an email address that is a school domain. So the email address needs to match the school website address to verify that they are legitimate education users. According to the Terms of Service of Prezi, users must be 13 and users under 18 must have parental permission. When I used the tool with my students I had signed permission forms, much like a field trip permission form, to use the tool.  Prezi uses Adobe flash so that tool needs to be updated and the plugin installed. There is an iPad Prezi app, which does not require Flash, which allows users to not only view, but create Prezis on the iPad or iPhone. There is a Prezi Google chrome app, but it is simply a link to the Prezi sign in page.

Prezi adds movement and zoomable scale. This are unique features to give writing more dynamic elements. Learners can create and express themselves in a very visual and creative way. For learners with trouble writing words visuals can be put together in a path to tell a story. The path can be linear or can vary in size and movement can be added. Because Prezi is visually intensive it may be a good choice for students with a hearing impairment. Various visual elements could help create mood or setting that might be restricted when trying to create a video or other audio rich multimedia writing project. The tool is user friendly with drag and drop photo and file adding, click and type elements and it saves automatically as you create.  Try it for your learners who are trying to add visual elements to their storytelling.


Kaizena. (2014). Kaizena. Retrieved from (2013). MindMup: Zero-friction free online mind mapping. Retrieved from

Prezi Inc. (2014). Prezi. Retrieved from

Assistive Technology Toolkit: Multimodal Supported Writing – Annotated Bibliography

As part of a term long study on supporting Multimodal Writing, an annotated bibliography of research and articles pertaining to supporting students in the creation of digitally and media infused text.

Annotated Bibliography: Multimodal Supported Writing

On Google Docs:

Multimodal Supported Writing – Assistive Technology Toolkit

Type of compensatory support: Multimodal Supported Writing

A general overview of this type of compensatory support:

There are many very standard categories of assistive technology supports, but I propose moving beyond the standard word prediction, speech to text or text to speech categories to support a broader definition of writing and text. As writing evolves beyond ink and pencils, the nature of text is exploding to include multimodal elements of audio, video, images, games and non linear structures. Multimodal writing is networked, collaborative, driven by feedback and not done in isolation. If we are truly supporting learners, we need to examine how to support learners in  the changing pedagogy digital tools have afforded. Multimodal supported writing brings together the idea of supporting this non traditional broader definition of text.

Multimodal writing is a constantly changing medium. It crosses genre and tool. This requires a knowledge of the potential tools available to learners or an openness to have students explore to find the appropriate tool to support their project.  Web based tools come with the considerations that other digital tools require. Students and teachers need to be aware of age restricted user agreements, digital account creation, the potential pitfalls and advantages of a wide audience, and when parental permission is required. Copyright and digital citizenship considerations come into play even more than they would with traditional word based text as citation of images, video and other media elements need to be addressed.  Adherence to district policy  and digital use agreements is essential, but district leadership needs to make sure there is an  openness and willingness to support new digital creation tools and mediums.

The kinds of students who may benefit from this type of compensatory support:

All students can benefit with these types of writing supports. Multimodal writing can combine elements of audio, video, image, and more traditional text. These options mean students can select the medium they are most comfortable with and that they can most easily adapt to if they have a disability or strength. They can work with other writers, share easily, and gain feedback as they create and compose. For example, a student with writing difficulties may choose to Vlog, or video blog a reflection on a story instead of writing a reflection on a word processor. The student can easily share or post this work and receive comments. If a student has a more complex learning need they could take or select an image to represent their thoughts.

How the compensatory support may support student learning:

“Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the twenty-first century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies…Twenty-first century readers and writers need to…Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts” (NCTE, 2009)

As we reexamine literacy, we reexamine the supports needed for our learners. Multimedia texts require multimedia supports. To support our students in using multimedia the tools needs to be flexible, device agnostic, and ideally online. This way students can access them anytime, anywhere, and from any device to support their learning needs and to match the technology available to them. Students can use these tools to meet the some of the competencies outlined in the Ministerial Order on Student Learning (2013):

“(d) manage information: access, interpret, evaluate and use information effectively, efficiently, and ethically

(e) innovate: create, generate and apply new ideas or concepts

(g) apply multiple literacies: reading, writing, mathematics, technology, languages, media, and personal finance

(h) demonstrate good communication skills and the ability to work cooperatively with others”

Conditions in the learning environment that would support the effective use of this type of compensatory support:

The learning environment would have to support student choice, flexible learning options, present opportunities for sharing and feedback, and be digitally enabled. The environment could be one where students bring their own device, one with school computers, or a blended technology environment. Flexible tools and flexible choices mean an active and busy place. Students may be doing many different things to create and meet the given learning outcome. Students and teachers may require support and encouragement to embrace change and risk as they allow students to explore media and text.

The planning considerations for embedding the use of this type of compensatory support in learning activities and/or teaching routines:

Students and teachers would need to be comfortable with choice and risk. Teachers need to be flexible to have students composing and sharing their writing in different ways and to different audiences. Students would need to have access to devices that allow them to choose different tools. Teachers and students do not need to be experts in every tool or need to have instruction in a variety of tools, but rather be familiar with a range of options and willing to experiment, try, and ask questions as they choose and create. It is a different idea than the traditional concept of all students using the same type of tool, usually a pencil, with a few modified or adapted because they have particular learning needs. With a wide variety of tools, methods, and choices needs and strengths can be better addressed in the classroom.

The types of learning activities (tasks) this type of compensatory support would facilitate:

Multimodal writing can be used for everything from narrative storytelling to research to an explanation of learning or understanding. The resources needed for multimodal creation support learners as they create and share.  They are very focused on student centered creation and sharing of learning.  These are not supports for teacher directed instruction, but rather open and creative expression in a variety of mediums.

Research and References:

Alberta Education. (2013). Ministerial order on student learning. Retrieved from

National Council of Teachers of English. (2009). NCTE framework for 21st century curriculum and assessment. Retrieved from

A position statement from the National Council of Teacher of English in the United States about what skills readers and writers need to be successful in the 21st century and the implications for curriculum and assessment for teachers.

Vasudevan, L.. (2010). Literacies in a Participatory, Multimodal World: The Arts and Aesthetics of Web 2.0. Language Arts, 88(1), 43-50.

An article looking at how digital media can bring back art, creativity, and enhance imagination in learners at all levels. Vasudevan (2010) examines the addition of digital design elements to writing as bringing more creativity and play into the writing process, making it more inviting and more accessible. The issues of open ended creative, expressive projects and where they fit into more traditional rigid classroom and assessment systems are discussed. Shifting perspectives of writing and creating as play and self representation instead of just for composition and communication are explored.

Yancey, K. B. (2009). Writing in the 21st century. Retrieved from

A report from the National Council of Teacher of English in the United States.  It is a call to action to help students “compose often, compose well, and through these composings become the citizen writers of our country, the citizens writers of our world, and the writers of our future” (Yancey, 2009, p. 1). The article discusses the importance of examining pedagogy of teaching the new models of writing. There is also an awareness of the changing audience of writing as options for sharing and communicating with an audience are enabled in a web based world.


TodaysMeet is a simple, clean chat tool. Teachers can create a space for students to share and contribute. There are no adds and no sign up needed.  Students do have to enter a name to join a room, making them accountable for their comments.

Students could post questions or observations during a video clip, reading, or class discussion. Check out this example from my own classroom –


To create a room go to –
1) Give your room a name – keep it simple it is the web address, or URL, you are going to send your students to.
2) Choose a length of time, the room disappears after this, but you can save a transcript of the conversation.

3) Choose Create Your Room


Give students the address your created and they have to enter a name to join the room.  Insist they use their real name so they are accountable for their comments.


After students join they can post comments, read others and respond.The save transcript button is at the bottom. (circled in red below)


The tool is simple, but the possible uses are endless!

National Film Board Interactives

the National Film Board Interactive Site is full of interactive stories.  It has a new one Fort McMoney – a web documentary game.  Check out Fort McMoney and all sorts of other interactive digital stories here –

10012014_125847_0I’ve created a video walkthrough of the site showing some of the stories and resources available.


The third tool of the January tech tool fest is Thinglink! Thinglink is a site and app that creates interactive images.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, a picture with words, video and links is worth 1 000 000!

Students take a image they have found or taken and can add hotspots with links, videos and embedded media to explain detail, link to resources, and give more information.

Check out this thinglink all about blizzards and snowstorms

To Sign up (as a teacher or student) they have an education page –

STUDENTS CAN SIGN UP FOR ACCOUNTS if they are over 13 or you can make a class account for students  under 13 to use.  You can help students sign up if they are under 13. “If you’re a teacher or student, you can upgrade your account to Education; it’s FREE. If a student is under the age of 13, a teacher, parent or legal guardian must provide consent for the child to use ThingLink.”


Sign up is fast
07012014_33221_2.pngA How To Use Thinglink Video from @rmbryne –

They even have a FREE iPad app to create Thinglinks on an iPad –

Games for Change

Today’s website is a place to go to find social impact gaming resources – Games For Change. Video Games are very engaging to our students, but often educational games are little more than electronic worksheets. Games for change is a search engine for Games that are focused on all sorts of relevant, curriculum based topics. To get to Games for Change go to and choose the games tab as indicated below. The games have different formats, some are apps, some are web based (java, flash, html5) some are installs, try them out on the devices students will be using as each one may be different.
When you go into the Games tab you can search by age range, topic, key word, or browse all 138 games. The games have been screened and reviewed by the Games for Change Organization.

Some of my favourites:

  • Data Dealer – be the person trying to collect and sell personal data on the internet.  It puts students in the shoes of the people trying to get their information so they learn to better protect it.
  • Stop Disasters – can you prepare land, people and a country for a natural disaster (flood, tsunami, hurricane, wildfire, earthquake)  I used it when I taught grade 5 weather, but could be great for many subject areas. Plays a lot like SimCity
  • Past Present – Live life in 1906 in an early prairie community (in the US, but still great!) -
  • Auti Sim – a quick simulation game that puts students in the shoes of an individual with autism and into a playground simulation. (Has ads)
  • ReMission – a Series of games to help understand how Cancer and the human body
  • Depression Quest – not for younger children – not meant to be a fun or lighthearted experience, but a learning experience  Users are put through scenarios and choices.  The game has over 40,000 words making it a strong literacy choice. there are 150 encounters and choices, with 5 possible endings.

That is just a few – have a look to see what might fit your curriculum – (including PE – Zombies Run is on here – love that app!)


Happy New Year and welcome to 2014!  To start the year off right, every school day  in January I’m going to profile a technology tool or idea you can use in your classroom this year. Have a look and see if it fits in with your class, curriculum and teaching. Some pieces may be particular to the division and teachers I work with, but you can apply your own jurisdiction address and procedures where applicable.

The first tool is Padlet, an online sticky note board where students can leave ideas, links, pictures or videos. It is really easy to create and has an infinite number of uses –

This is an example of a wall used to make sentences – and even has feedback from the teacher.

You could use it to collect exit passes, share an opinion, share notes studying for an exam, give a fact from a video clip, share an answer to an equation, or list links to interesting resources.  Students do no need to log in, you just give them the address or URL of the padlet you create.  It takes seconds to create one.  You can create an account if you wish to save your wall and you can even log in with your GLINK account.
To create a wall without signing in – just choose the yellow build a wall button. To sign in (this has more steps, but they are all below) choose the Green Login or Signup Button.  The benefit of logining in is you can save the wall, and move around or delete student responses it




Then you can create an accout or use your GLINK by choosing Login with Google
Use your full Glink address: and Glink password (PS your students can make them too – they all have glink accounts!)
PPS – If you are logged into Chrome with your Glink, Padlet is one of the Preloaded Chrome Apps – open a new tab and choose the APPS icon in the top left corner, then choose Padlet


It may ask you to reenter your GLINK passwork – this is fine
You may also have to accept the permissions, – this is also fine and only happens once (choose the blue accept button)
Choose the big plus sign to create a new wall.  Any previous walls will be saved here.
Yay!  You made a wall – to share with students so they can add notes give them the URL address.  If you want to change settings, for example to change the background colour, give it a title, add posting instructions, or customize the URL so it is easier to share with the students you can do it here.
To add to a wall just double click anywhere. You give your note a title (or have the students put their name) then they can type a response, add a link (could be a video link) upload a picture, or even take a picture with the built in webcam (for example take a photo of their paper to show their work in math)
Geeky stuff – beware
You can share, export, email or embed padlet walls with the share button
In this tab you find the URL and Embed codes to put a live padlet wall into a blog, google site or other website.  There is even a QR code for your wall so students can scan it to go to the wall – awesome!



A Year in Review #nurture1314

I’ve done year in review posts before here, here and here but now there is a hashtag dedicated to sharing these reflections – #nurture1314 I love it – so here goes a  look back at 2013 and forward at 2014!

My goals from last year:

1) Go back to school – I’m applying to go back to Graduate School in the area of Assistive Technology, I have no idea if I will be accepted, but I’m looking forward to trying.

I did it!  I’m half way through my post graduate certificate in Assistive Technology and so far everything is going very well. I’m being exposed to new tools, new people to learn from, new research, and new ways of thinking.  As I go I’ve been building an Assistive Technology Toolkit with resources and ideas!

In 2014 I would like to complete the program and continue to bring what I’ve learned back to classrooms in Northern Gateway. As for the next academic step, I’m not sure, perhaps a look at a PHD program, but I’m in no rush and have no expectations on myself other than to keep learning and growing.

Photo by Connie Marchek
Photo by Connie Marchek

2) Travel – I want to go back to Scotland, I predict more time in New England, I keep looking at Spain, there are summer Rocky Mountain padding and hiking plans in the works, and I would love to visit somewhere new.  All the time being active and adventurous. How Far is my motto, how far can I go?  How far can I push myself?

I didn’t make it back to Scotland (boo to me). I visited New England twice and it was lovely with skiing in the Appalachians, paddling, and visiting but I’m moving on from that part of my life. I went to Costa Rica this year to bike, paddle and work with Endangered Sea Turtles – it was fabulous – photos here.  I went skiing at Sunshine and Jasper several times (how spoiled am I living so near the Rockies!), winter camping and snowshoeing – photos here.  My travel highlight of the year was definitely a week long paddle trip in BC with Angie and Sherrie!  We paddled the Bowron Lakes Circuit in solo kayaks.  It was an amazing experience with great scenery, great weather and great company – photos here!

My travel goals for 2014 are very exciting.  Skiing weekends are planned and I’m looking at the MS Bike Tour in the spring, but I have two big trips coming up. I’m off to Nepal at Easter for 12 days of mountain biking with a group from Pokhara to Kathmandu.  New people to meet, new places to visit!  In the summer I am mountain biking the Great Divide Trail from Banff to Mexico solo. I’m hoping friends may ride different sections with me, but I’m fine with being self sufficient. I heard about it a few years ago and it’s been sitting with me as something I need to do – on the someday list. I’m not one to leave things on the someday list, I do them. I’ll be riding 4418km over 49 days – with a goal of 100km a day with some cushion for rest and repairs. The off road trail crosses the Continental Divide 32 times, going through Alberta, BC, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. I can’t wait!  I’ve got almost all of my gear sorted (rear small pannirs and frame bag) and have been spending my evenings on my road bike on the indoor trainer (winter in Canada is cold) For the fall I’m not sure where I will end up, but I’m open!

3) Work – I’m just sinking my teeth into my new district education technology leadership role.  I have a lot of work to do and a lot to share.  I’m looking forward to continue to work with the district staff, principals and teachers of Northern Gateway Public Schools.

Now a year and a half into my role with Northern Gateway I’m finding my place, building relationships and really starting to feel like I’m making an impact on the learning of students. My projects, in conjunction with my team members in both the technology department and the learning services department – current and looking forward:

-A redesigned network with site based internet connections instead of a central distribution hub, supported by Cybera internet and peering services

-Community based technical support with a future of technology coaching

-A three part digital citizenship program with an administrative procedure, instructional benchmarks, and instructional support resources.

-Using Twitter and Facebook at district, school, and classroom levels to communicate, share and support the amazing things happening in Northern Gateway schools.

-Assistive tools available to all learners through the Google Apps for Education platform and the web.

-Use of Chromebooks, laptops and tablets at different ages and levels and the decision making that went into different technology choices

-3D printing, games based learning, ereaders, GPS and other emerging technology available to our learners

-Personal Electronic Devices, social media  and copyright administrative procedure changes and updates

2014 is looking to be fantastic!

Chromebook Storage

I have been seeing all sorts of innovative ways to store and move around Chromebooks as we have been adding them to our school jurisdiction.  We are up to 520 machines, and if we don’t spend all of our money on expensive, heavy carts we can get even more! I find carts very inflexible. Cords are often trapped inside and hard to get out, and they are heavy to move around the school.  They still feel like a barrier to access technology when students need it for learning.  There are simpler, less expensive solutions.

This cube of 8 is from John Lobo at Onoway High School.  He used a simple rolling cube, magazine racks and a power bar. The collection of 8 is a useful number for collaboration, and teachers can sign out more than one cube if they need to.


This locking cabinet idea came from Gillian Penny when she was headteacher of Gavinburn Primary near Glasgow, Scotland.  They were used as storage for iPads, but this solution would work with many types of devices.  The locking cabinet is $130 CDN from Ikea – There is magazine holders to hold the devices inside the cabinet.  The cabinet also comes in red!storage 2 storage1
Our grade five classes at Whitecourt Central School in Whitecourt are going 1:1 with Chromebooks.  With 112 machines they needed an inexpensive way to store and charge devices, but make them easily accessible.  Tim Bowman shared the dish rack solution.

Cloud Based Universal Design for Learning Tools

As a piece of the post graduate certificate in Assistive Technology I’m working on through the University of Calgary I have been researching and writing about Cloud Based UDL tools – below is my paper all about it for your enjoyment and reference purposes.

Google Doc Link:

Scrib Version:

Cloud Based Universal Design for Learning Tools by Jennifer Deyenberg

Assistive Technology Toolkit – #UDLchat

#UDLchat is a fantastic Universal Design for Learning (UDL) tool. The twitter hashtag provides links to resources, educators, and experts on the topic of UDL in the classroom.

Twitter is a microblogging site where anyone can sign up for a free account and share 140 character snippets of information.  The original intent of twitter was as a social networking tool, but educators have caught on to the powerful nature of instant sharing which the Twitter platform provides. A hashtag is one of the built in features of Twitter that has spread across the internet. If you start a word or a phrase with the # symbol it makes it a link.  When you click on this link it connects to a list of other people that have used the same search term or hashtag.  Users cannot put punctuation or spaces in hashtags and they are not case sensitive, however multiple capital letters in a row often denote an acronym, which is why #UDLchat has the UDL letters capitalized.  You can use multiple hashtags if a tweet or resource is about more than one topic.

Using the characters #UDLchat in a tweet means that your words can join a collection of other comments, topics, or views on UDL in learning.   You don’t have to be on twitter to view the conversation or access the resources being shared.  If you go to twitter search or just search the #UDLchat hashtag in a regular search engine you will see tweets with the hashtag in it appear. If on a mobile device or twitter application you can use the built in search function to monitor a hashtag stream. It is not vital to watch every tweet, you can go back in time and see previous contributions to the topic.

Several experts and resources contribute to the #UDLchat hashtag including David Rose @DavidRose_CAST and the National Center on UDL @UDL_Center are regular contributors to the hashtag.  The Alberta Education Flexible Pathways project #flexpaths is often featured as well.

The photo below shows a short snippet of the valuable tools and ideas being shared.

Twitter ∕ Search - #UDLchat

As Twitter is an open, public platform anyone, with any credentials or experience, can share ideas.  One must be aware of the opinions and perspectives offered.  It is also possible spam or companies can use the hashtag to try to market products or services.

It is not hard to tweet, but it is a new experience and tool for those that have never tried it. #UDLchat is just one hashtag, there are thousands of popular education hashtags, on all sorts of subjects.  Often the word chat is part of them, for example #SSchat for Social Studies or #Kinderchat for kindergarten.  Hashtags run constantly, but there are sometimes organized time when people plan to tweet questions and have conversations around particular topics using a hashtag to find each other’s tweets. #UDLchat is on Wednesday nights from 9:00 to 9:30pm EST, but that can change.  Check the hashtag for updated times.

In my role as a division education technology coordinator I use the #UDLchat and other hashtags to learn about resources and share ideas with other educators.  We share on our district hashtag #NGRD and the Alberta hashtag #abed


UDL Cloud Based Tools – Annotated Bibliography

I’m working away this semester on a graduate level university class with the University of Calgary all about Universal Design for Learning (UDL) tools in the Cloud.  I am writing about specific tools, but also putting together a research paper about UDL tools in the cloud.

Below is my Annotated Bibliography of the research behind the work in progress that is UDL in the cloud.  There are some great references and resources here including a paper on how UDL and TPACK work together.

Google Doc:

And on Scribed:


Cloud Based UDL Annotated Bibliography

Assistive Technology Toolkit – Read&Write for Google

As more students are bringing their own devices and operating in cloud based environments, UDL tools which operate only on school based computers and have to be installed by technology personnel are becoming more impractical and more expensive. Learners need access on any device, beyond school walls. UDL tools which are browser and cloud based provide this independent access without having to install programs. They exist on the web instead of an individual user terminal. This allows for delivery of the tool or service to anywhere, from anywhere.

Google Apps for Education (GAFE) provides a delivery platform for cloud based tools. Learners can log into their Google Account and choose apps and extensions to use in the chrome ecosystem. This chrome ecosystem exists in the form of the Chrome Browser, which can be installed on PCs, iOS machines, tablets, and smartphones, as well as the Chrome operating system, which run Chromebook computers. Built into the Chrome ecosystem is the Chrome store where you can choose applications (apps) and extensions to be accessible on chrome. They are not installed locally, but rather you access the tools via the internet.

One of the best of these Chrome extensions is Read&Write for Google by Texthelp. Texthelp created the original Read&Write Gold text to speech tool. Read&Write for Google is a variation of the tool that is housed in the cloud, making it more accessible and easier to use. Districts don’t have to set up server space for voice training files and don’t have to install the program on local machines. When a learner logs in the toolbar is automatically loaded. A grey icon appears in a tab just below the navigation bar and when the text can be read it turns green. Clicking on the green square lowers the toolbar so a user can select options. The toolbar is available in Google Documents, a cloud based word processor, for Portable Document Files (PDF), for Electronic Publication Files (Epub), and Kursweil (KES) files. Reading web content is being added in the next month. There are more than a dozen different voice choices with male and female options with a range of accents.

In addition to text to speech capabilities the tool bar offers a word dictionary, picture dictionary, highlighting markup tools, a translator, quick search fact finder and vocabulary grid. These tools put the necessary pieces at the fingertips of learners who need them.

As Northern Gateway moves more into cloud a resource that was available for students at home and at school was increasingly important. Read&Write is a tool they can self manage and to increase their independence. Student can hear what they write. This gives them a chance to listen for voice, flow and mistakes. Often spell check will indicate a work is spelled correctly, but it is not the correct word for the context. Listening back to writing can find these errors. Students can check for run on sentences as the tool pauses for punctuation and is even quite strong with proper names. Read&Write pronounces numbers and with proper spacing can assist with numeracy and number pronunciation. A student has have trouble proper saying numbers in the hundred thousand range and with proper space was able to experiment and check how number should sound. Number sentences with addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and equal symbols are read out, allowing students to not just see, but hear number tasks.

Read&Write has a free 30 day trial, but to access features other than the basic text to speech reading after that period, there is a cost involved. Individual users cost $100, but there are intermediate volume discounts of $10 per user and $2.25 per user with over 5000 users. The installation is tied to a Google account for individuals or a GAFE domain for education organizations. On a GAFE installation after the extension has been purchased through Texthelp it has to be added to the preinstalled collection of apps and extensions in the Chrome Management section of the GAFE admin panel. Read&Write works on the computer version of the chrome browser, for PC and MAC computers, and chromebooks. It does not run on the iPad or smartphone version of the chrome browser, however text to speech tools are already built into these mobile devices.


Texthelp. (2013). Read&write for google [Browser extension software]. Retrieved from

Video Games in the Inclusive Classroom

Embedded below is a paper on how video games can play a role in an inclusive classroom.

Abstract: In an inclusive classroom learners can access learning that is creative, challenging, and meets their learning needs. Video games can help to meet this need by providing environments and a platform to help compensate for physical and learning disabilities. Video games can provide an alternative to traditional text based narrative to combine literacy learning with creativity and problem solving. Video games can even help enhance self-esteem when it comes to learning and help engage our students. They match pedagogical practices and can create learning opportunities and challenges for all learners, by not only playing them, but by creating them as well.

Video Games in the Inclusive Classroom

Bridging Apps – An App Search Engine for Inclusive Education

bridging appsBridging Apps

Rahman, S. & Reat, C. (2010). Bridging apps. Retrieved from

Given an extensive search for a site about apps, specifically for inclusive education to support learners, I eventually came to Bridging Apps.  Many sites had apps for various grade levels or subjects, or for very high needs learners, but there was not much for learning needs of all students or specific skill development.  Bridging Apps fits the gap!.

Bridging Apps provides are searchable database of apps for both iOS and Android devices, with apps from the iTunes and Google Play stores using their custom tool Insigno.  When you go into their custom search there are all sorts of parameters you can narrow your search by.

  • Main Search Box: Keywords – Type in what you are looking for or refine by use the criteria options below the box.
  • Criteria 1: Skill Levels – You can narrow your search from 1 month to 18+ years of age.  The search is in many different areas so you can find apps based on strengths and needs in the areas of: auditory, cognitive range, fine motor, language and visual.  This is the most valuable part of the criteria.  You can really target where there are deficiencies and not limit based on other strengths.
  • Criteria 2: Mobile Device – In this category you can type in the name of the device or choose the ellipse (…) to choose from a list of Android, iPad, or iPhone.
  • Criteria 3: Embedded Skills – Type in or choose the ellipse (…) to choose from a list of over 200 skills to search from.  There is everything from verbal fluency to shape recognition in the extensive list of skills.
  • Criteria 4: Independent Traits – Type in or choose the ellipse (…) to choose from a list of 30 independent traits.  These trails are more big picture that the very specific skills. Examples of traits are telling time or social skills.
  • Criteria 5: Assistive Traits –  Type in or choose the ellipse (…) to choose from a list of 10 traits which are specific to areas of learning need such as reading, social interaction, or assistive communication.
  • Criteria 6: Assistive/Independent – This choice allows you to sort from apps that students can use independently or with assistance.
  • Criteria 7/8: iTunes/Android Categories – Choose the manufacturer specific app store categories, for example, education, organization, or business.
  • Criteria 9: Bridging Apps Categories – Instead of the manufacturer’s very general categories this narrows into learning specific categories such as positive reinforcement and nutrition.

Many of the categories overlap and you can choose to use any or all of the categories when searching.

Once you come up with a list of apps, there is a picture, the name of the app, a bridge symbol, and a star rating.  The bridge symbol indicates it has been reviewed by the Bridging Apps Community.  Once you click into an app you can see screenshots, attributes, a description, and user feedback.  The user feedback section is great, as you can see how people are using it and what they think of it. When there is a Bridging Apps review, it gives the most relevant classroom based information.

This site is especially good for finding out really good user based reviews of assistive apps.  When apps are free and you can try them you can evaluate them yourself easily, but some apps are very expensive and a field test can be cost prohibitive. Educator based review can help you make important decisions to support learners. Apps for very high needs learners are often the most expensive as they fit a very narrow skill set.  Having a solid review written by educators and other learning professionals is invaluable when trying to sort through the huge list of apps out there. There is a section to suggest an app to add to the database as well, which is important to keep the search tool current.

When you sign up for free you can create a list of apps and save it for others to see.  You do not have to be signed up to search lists others have created. When you are signed in you can also become on the communities on the site for educators or other professionals working with learners. This could be great on a division level to share favourite apps among teachers and schools!

The tool is a fabulous database of apps, and is not specific to a single manufacturer.  The Insigno tool provides all sorts of search refining criteria to find exactly what you are looking for to support learners. In your own district a method of distributing and putting the apps on the devices needs to be in place.  The Apple Volume Purchase program and Apple Configurator or iTunes works for iOS products and very soon Google Play for Education will streamline the process for Android Devices

The limitations of the tools are that as each app has to be added to the database it may take a while for apps to be listed.  I check for a few newer apps and they seemed to be there, but did not always have many reviews or ratings yet, but that comes with the every changing nature of app development. There are service sections of the site where you can pay to get a custom list of apps given specific learning goals, but given the strong search tool this is not necessary for most users. A further improvement could be a similar apps function.  If the tool suggested similar apps after you found one app, you could easily find other apps to support learning needs.

I will use this tool in my work with teachers, special needs facilitators and teachers.  I often get questions such as, “What app would work for….” Or requests for apps to support specific learning goals, this tool can help me find apps I might not have heard of based on the learning needs to the student.

Chrome Toolbox

Chrome toolbox

There is an explosion of school districts in Alberta, including my own district, Northern Gateway Public Schools, who are using the Google Apps for Education suite of tools. With these tools comes a login for the Google Chrome browser. The Google Chrome browser has a multitude of apps and extensions that can be installed to make the internet a more accessible and productive space. Chrome Toolbox is a site profiling Chrome apps and extensions to support learning needs of students. The Chrome browser, with an individual gmail or Google apps login, can be highly personalized and customized. This allows students and teachers to choose the tools they need to support their learning. Users can install tools that read or translate text, remove ads or distracting graphics, link to other services, or even mark up and save notes or highlighting. Users can also create a home page of apps, similar to a tablet, to choose to launch tools or sites, customized to individual preferences.

This resource appeals to me because it empowers the individual. Students and teachers can make their own choices and try out supportive apps and extensions as they need to, or as they are recommended to them. They don’t need to wait for permission or assistance to install anything, they can just do it as they see fit. Because the tools are tied to a Google login, once they are installed they are added to a profile, not an individual piece of technology. No matter the computer, the tool is always there when a user opens and logs into the Chrome browser. This is powerful and easy. Having a place, like the Chrome Toolbox to find tools by the task a learner is trying to accomplish or by a specific personal need, targets support without having to search and find in the larger Chrome web store.

It is organized in several ways. The task section organizes tools for specific tasks a student might be trying to support, such as mathematics, reading, or organization. The profile section is more specific to a specific learner profile such as a student who is hard of hearing or an English language learner. The keyword section lists words and how often they are used on the site. It shows the use and number of tools for a specific topic. The forum section links to a Google+ community where tools are discussed and shared. Tools can be found across multiple categories.

Each tool is given an editor’s rating which assesses the functionality and ease of use. the tools are linked to the Chrome web store for instant installation. On a particular tool’s page there are tasks the tool assists with listed, related keywords, and a powerful section called the Featured Recipe. The Featured Recipe shows connections that bring tools and strategies together to support student needs. It links back to these complementary tools.

The site was developed by John Calvert and Mark Surabian as part of a PHD program at Pace University. A technology learning facilitator and assistive technology practitioner respectively. This combination really shows how technology can support the learning needs of students.

Chrome Toolbox is a great review of tools to support learners, but the reviews are by two individuals. The ratings are not crowd sourced, or submitted by a larger audience. The Featured Recipe section accepts suggestions from the larger education community, which is powerful as it brings in the expertise and experiences of a wider range of individuals. You can leave your own ratings and comments, and even submit your own favourite apps and extensions for consideration. Currently there are not very many user comments or ratings, but as more people use the site, this will grow. The website does not required a login or sign up so any user, teacher or student can browse and find tools that may be supportive of their learning. Having student ratings and feedback of the tools would be very powerful to assess their effectiveness as learning supports. Chrome Toolbox is a fantastic, reviewed list of supports for learning, but needs more teacher and student participation to increase authenticity, diversity, and quantity of the Featured Recipes, reviews, and comments.

The Chrome Toolbox is very supportive resource for school districts who have Google Apps for Education accounts and the Chrome web browser installed, as the tools require this support at a district level.

Calvert, J. & Surabian, M. (n.d.). Chrome toolbox. Retrieved from


Designing Inclusive Learning Environments

I’m back at university (and back blogging after a wordpress meltdown).  I’m looking forward to a great set of courses as I work towards a graduate certificate in Assistive Technology for Learning in the Inclusive Classroom.  My series of courses with the University of Calgary looks like this:

EDER 679.08 Designing Inclusive Learning Environments

EDER 679.34 Universal Designs for Learning

EDER 679.18 Adaptive Technologies in Education

EDER 679.XX Designing Accessible and Enabling Learning Environments

notesI am really enjoying the course content and first session (notes – in Jen style using Notability on the Ipad)

Then I entered into the Blackboard discussion board and I’m am losing my mind.  Is this really the best tool a university has for distance learning?!

The conversation is disjointed, hard to follow, and the requirement of having to respond to three classmates seems very artificial instead of having authentic conversation.  Threads are all over the place and you can’t see what another student has replied or even the original post when you are trying to contribute to the conversation.  Instant frustration and it actually stalls the conversation.  I didn’t just automatically put in a hyperlink, I had to do it manually with a pop up window – that makes it easy to link the conversation to actual relevant sources.  All of this with the impeding sinking feeling that you have lost your work because you can’t save a draft of your posts.

The worst part is that (I think) I am writing some really insightful thoughts and they are limited to feedback from a few (although very interesting, insightful) people. So in the interest of open sharing:

In response to a conversation about IEPTs (Individual Education Planning Tool):

My district level discussions echo Michaela’s statement that support for the IEPT tool is being discontinued, but the IEPT library will remain.  After a two year pilot the IEPT tool and IPPs are being reexamined.  In a presentation to our district by ADM Linquist we were told announcements are forthcoming on both tools, with an alternative being possible.  What does that mean – who knows in government world.  For me my ultimate criteria would be:

1) Develops a profile including strengths and needs for learners
2) Has an area to develop individual learning goals
3) Has an area to develop for targeted IPP style goals
4) IS LED BY THE LEARNER (most importantly) – teachers can fill in paperwork all day, or this an actually be relevant and student led.

Zoe Branigan-Pipe shows how it is done with her Grade 5/6 class –

Branigan-Pipe, Z. (2013, April 14). Are students accountable for their IEPs? [Web log post]. Retrieved from

And a response (perhaps slightly less insightful, just trying to bring a current educational change into the discussion of the clas) to the professor’s discussion starter of:

“Certainly, most of us understand that the role of the teacher is central in student success.  Nonetheless, it is easy to develop habits that lure us away from the reality that we are better teachers when we accept responsibility for the success of each student (my emphasis). . . We begin to live at peace with an “I taught it well so they should have gotten it” approach to our work.  It’s a very different teacher who accepts the reality that if a student has not yet learned a thing of importance, the teacher has not yet taught it well enough. ” (Integrating Differentiated Instruction, p. 44)

We bring our knowledge, attitudes and skills to our work.  Consider how often you stop and examine what these are.  What impact might these have on the quality of our learning environments?  On our students/colleagues/parents?
On page 40 in Integrating Differentiated Instruction, nine attitudes and skills are listed that typify teachers who help ALL learners.  These same attitudes and skills are embedded in the Teaching Quality Standard Applicable to the Provision of Basic Education in Alberta (see Web Resource Links).  Have a look at both lists and consider where you are.  What areas of strength can you identify?  What areas do you feel you need to work on?  Are there any areas that surprise you?  Any areas you feel are missing?
You might also want to have a look at the Teaching Effectiveness Framework and the ATA’s Reflect on Your Professional Practice (see Web Resource Links) or the self-assessment on pages six and seven in Making a Difference.

Many others have addressed the Teaching Quality Standard and McTighe and Tomlinson’s work so I want to bring a new document forward for the consideration of the class.

In May 2013 Minster Johnson signed a new ministerial order outline the goals and standards applicable to the provision of education in Alberta.  As teachers I feel this carries great weight as we reflect on our professional practice. If what it means to educate students in Alberta has shifted, we as teachers need to shift.

Although the entire document is loaded with discussion inducing topics, in the context of this course and discussion, the statement, “WHEREAS education in Alberta will be shaped by a greater emphasis on education than on the school; on the learner than on the system; on competencies than on content; on inquiry, discovery and the application of knowledge than on the dissemination of information; and on technology to support the creation and sharing of knowledge than on technology to support teaching.” defines for me the shifts we need to embrace in our classrooms. This takes away the idea that the teacher must teach the concept and buts the emphasis on the learner and how we as teachers can assist the learner to inquire, discover, and apply knowledge. 

Alberta Education. (2013). An order to adopt or approve goals and standards applicable to the provision of education in Alberta. Ministerial Order (#001/2013).

More homework to come, I just got so distracted by the tool I was using that I couldn’t focus on the content.

Where am I going with this – I am struggling with the learning tools provided to me and it looks like I am stuck with them for the four courses.  I am really excited about the content and the expertise of my classmates and professor, but I am afraid that a closed, clunky tool is actually completely contravening the spirit of a course on Designing Inclusive Learning Environments.

Are we doing this to our students in our classrooms everyday?