Future Reflections                                                                                       Spring/Summer, 2003

Future Reflections                                                                       Spring/Summer 2003

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A Review of SAL
Speech Activated Learning

by Robert S. Jaquiss

Robert S. Jaquiss
Robert S. Jaquiss

Editor’s Note: Robert Jaquiss is one of the technology experts working in the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind.

In the following article he gives a description of the SAL, a new type of Braille teaching aid that employs speech, a computerized touch screen, and regular paper Braille. This is what Mr. Jaquiss says about the SAL: 

Years ago when I was learning Braille, nearly all the materials I used were hand-made by my mother and by my teacher, Mrs. Summers. About the time I started third grade, I began receiving books from volunteer Braille groups, and a few that had been produced by the American Printing House for the Blind. As I said, my Mother made most of my beginning Braille books. She didn’t know Braille, but she was provided a Perkins Braille writer, and a copy of the 1959 edition of the Braille rules. She figured that she could Braille my books, because she only needed to know a bit more Braille than I did. My pre-Braille tactile materials were strings, rickrack, and other materials glued to pages in a book. Soon, I could read Braille far faster than Mother could ever produce it. Mother would Braille for four hours, and I would come home, and read all her work in less than thirty minutes. When I learned Braille, thirty percent of all blind children learned Braille.

Now in the twenty-first century things have changed. There are fewer volunteer Braillists, and there is a shortage of Braille teachers. Less than ten percent of blind children are taught Braille. Dr. Sally Mangold, the developer of a new product, SAL (Speech Activated Learning) hopes to improve this situation. SAL is a teaching aid that is designed to help a student learn Braille and develop good reading habits. SAL is 16 inches long, 13 inches wide, and 1.5 inches high. Most of the top surface is comprised of a touch screen that will hold an 11 x 11.5 inch piece of Braille paper. In front is a keyboard like those on a Braille ’n Speak. On the right side is a floppy disk drive for loading lesson materials.

To use SAL, a user places a Braille lesson page on the touch-screen and then closes a latch. SAL has a barcode reader that “reads” the page and sets the system to respond correctly to the user. The user listens to instructions, presses a prompt button when a request has been completed, and changes pages when requested. SAL responds when a student presses points on the lesson. A student might hear requests like:

“Press all the letter G’s in the first column.”

“Find the end of the third line.”

When a student responds correctly, SAL makes encouraging comments. If a student responds incorrectly, SAL will say “Wrong answer.” When a lesson page is complete, SAL gives a score so the student knows how well he or she did. The keyboard is used for two purposes. The first is to allow a teacher to perform administrative functions such as setting the language, backing up records, et cetera. The second purpose of the keyboard is to allow students to enter answers for math and advanced coursework.

When a new lesson is used for the first time, the user is asked to insert the diskette that comes with the lesson. SAL then reads the diskette and loads the appropriate files. A teacher can load in all the needed lesson materials before a student starts using SAL.

SAL also helps teachers by recording student responses. A teacher can upload these responses to a computer for further analysis.

In the future, software will become available for the creation of materials so teachers can create customized lessons as needed.

SAL is well-designed. A lot of thought went into designing the hardware and courseware. The SAL hardware costs $4,500, so it may be more suitable for a school to purchase than for an individual. In conclusion, it is too soon to know what impact SAL may have, but SAL is well-designed and has lots of potential. SAL will not replace a Braille teacher, but it can help reinforce good reading practices.

References

Exceptional Teaching Aids, Inc.
20102 Woodbine Avenue
Castro Valley, CA 94546
Toll free: (800) 549-6999
Phone: (510) 582-4859
Fax: (510) 582-5911
E-mail: ExTeaching@aol.com
http://www.exceptionalteaching.com

Freedom Scientific Inc.
http://www.freedomscientific.com

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