As a DSA needs assessor along with my experience of having been a DSA Assessment Centre manager, the team at Aventido have asked me to write some thoughts about the use of Chromebooks for students with cognitive disabilities that affect their studies at university.
More and more I'm seeing students coming to assessment with a preference for using Chromebooks because that is what they have been used to using in the past or because students they have less money to spend on higher specification computers and associated costs of using a computer for tasks associated with being at university.
Increasingly, a lot of students that I assess seem to have been using Chromebooks since they were studying for their G.C.S.E’s, so it is simply just easier for them to continue using a hardware platform that they are more familiar with.
It is not easily thought of, amongst DSA needs assessors, but switching hardware platforms for computing tasks is something that for some students, is very difficult. this is why many students would prefer to go with what they know.
This dependency on using Chromebooks therefore poses a lot of problems for the student and the DSA needs assessor in that a lot of the assistive technology that we can recommend, simply does not provide adequate functionality across all of the hardware platforms and especially on Chromebooks.
It is interesting that a lot of the products that Aventido provide really do come into their own as increasingly they are addressing the issues of working across hardware platforms and including working with Chromebooks.
In a recent webinar about using Chromebooks James, Mary, and Sam from Aventido explored how products such as Lightkey, Pro-Study, ReadSpeaker TextAid, Abbyy and MindMeister are increasingly providing full functionality across Macs, PCs, and Chromebooks.
The video below is a recording of the webinar entitled “Exploring Chromebooks & Assistive Technology.”
A key problem is that students have less and less money nowadays and then we, the DSA needs assessors, are saying “Oh, your Chromebook doesn’t work with supporting your needs. I am going to have to recommend you a DSA-funded laptop, but by the way, you need to £200 pounds towards the cost...” In these situations, the expression on the students’ faces simply asks the question about where they are going to find that £200 in order to get the essential technology that they need for them to be able to complete the academic tasks for their respective courses.
Whilst there may be student bursaries available, they are generally means-tested. As a result, there are some families who may have incomes that are higher than what is allowed but still struggle to afford that £200 cost so a lot of students will be missing out.
So the beauty about all of these online tools is there's a whole suite of assistive technology out there that students can benefit from.
In terms of ‘text-to-speech’ as well as ‘speech-to-text’ technology, Google Docs provides some inbuilt functionality that, in my opinion, is better than functionality offered by Apple or Microsoft.
For example, if a student is not able to gain access to Dragon software that is premium, then Google Docs and Google Reports can go some way to meeting their need.
So if a student is using a Chromebook and needs a level of functionality that exceeds the capability of Google’s offerings then it is good to see that for ‘text to speech’, ReadSpeaker TextAid is a good solution, for confidently and productively collating research, Pro-Study meets the Chromebook requirements and for helping a student with writing lengthy essays and dissertations the mindmapping software, MindMeister is more than capable on a Chromebook. If spelling and grammar are an issue then the Lightkey plugin on Google Chrome is extremely useful.
The way students learn at university is changing constantly with more of a blended approach to learning and collaboration between students and a lot of the tools that Aventido mention are able to provide for this on Chromebooks whether they are Chrome plugins or web apps as well.
From my perspective, I can see that there are so many tools available for Chromebooks out there.
As an assessor, when I first heard about Chromebooks, I was worried about what I should recommend to a student who is insisting or needs to use a Chromebook but now I have a different frame of mind, one that no longer focuses on what one cannot do on a Chromebook but what one can do.
Chromebooks allow for great organisational tools as well, especially when working within Google Docs and Google Drive when everything is stored automatically. A lot of students with organisational issues resulting from having ADHD, dyspraxia, Autistic Spectrum Disorder, for example, a Chromebook could be a great tool for them because everything's stored automatically in one place.
On balance, I am increasingly all for Chromebooks, as assistive technology functionality on this hardware platform is going from strength to strength there is also an added benefit in cost for those who find paying the £200 DSA contribution difficult.
If you'd like to learn more about Chrome Books and Assistive Technology, contact a member of the team by clicking on the banner below.