Universal Access using Graphics and Drawing Software

1. Introduction

Kites that look like a head of a dog

Some students dislike or struggle with writing or typing text. A number of reasons or factors may be involved. They may have previously failed in creating text, have poor spelling, writing or typing skills or they are slow to create text. Some find planning and organising their thoughts challenging.

Others discover that the mechanics of hand writing fail them as it is slow or laborious, and in some instances, fatiguing and painful. Legibility may be a concern or they have a physical condition that needs to be evaluated or assessed.

Typing can also present difficulty as identifying letters, accessing them with sufficient accuracy and speed or simply remembering what they wish to type, after incorrectly spelling then correcting a word, can cause frustration and result in poor performance. This often results anxiety and loss of confidence.

If this repeated failure continues, this can form the basis of a number of inappropriate behaviours and a negative attitude to text creation. Often disengaged learners rebel and choose not to write as they feel inadequate, compromised or “dumb” as they cannot compete or keep up with their peers.

This dilemma is not uncommon and boys are predominantly prone to avoiding text creation tasks at school and at home. Composing essays, stories, poems and even lists are deemed to be too difficult and then they choose to opt out. Even when using computers and software, the task is overwhelming and avoidance is better than experiencing continued failure.

Word processing does not always excite students or encourage them to write. Even encouraging struggling students to use spell checking or text to speech options is met with disdain. They have failed so frequently and so consistently that they consider writing to be a chore, boring, demeaning and unsatisfying. Despite efforts by educators and parents, they will cleverly create scenarios where they can evade the best efforts of people trying to help them.

All classroom tasks, in practically all subject areas, involve some form of research, note taking, documentation and writing. Being a reluctant writer therefore holistically impacts learning, and is not just a ‘literacy class’ concern. It permeates all school and homework tasks. Over time, it can compromise a student’s performance in exam conditions and present in later years as a real concern, impeding their progress to further year levels or more critically into tertiary study, apprenticeship courses or workplace opportunities.

a. Disclosure

An artistic image of a man using a magnifying glass on a document on the word disclosure

Disclosure at school and especially upon entering tertiary study can alleviate stress and bring about some change and support. Reluctance, though, is common as students often believe that their condition is normal and that they are just experiencing what others may also be experiencing. They don’t want to be regarded as being different. Educators are frustrated as they can usually identify when a student is incapable of writing content matter that matches their verbal abilities. Often, articulate and intelligent students do not produce work commensurate with their other abilities and skills.

This is often only identified in the latter years of education. It is then too late for intervention or any meaningful way of changing habits. Support in tertiary and apprenticeships are available, but some students take the ‘long way round’ to eventually study at a preferred University or TAFE course due to lack of ability to write or type assignments, projects, study papers and exams. Disclosure is a private matter but is often identified by a teacher, lecturer or tutor after the work becomes too demanding or the content complex and overwhelming.

b. Strategies?

Other strategies may need to be explored. Breaking larger tasks or projects into smaller tasks, or less demanding activities may encourage participation and build confidence and self worth. Using literacy support tools such as Texthelp Read & Write or ClaroRead may help. These are based on Universal Design principles and serve users as accessible floating toolbars. The embedded tools can be used across all applications. Programs in AccessApps or in MyStudyBar (www.eduapps.org ) may also be a good starting point, providing some free literacy tools to assist in the writing and reading processes.

Use of audio recording, where the student rehearses or practises and records his or her audio may help in storing the ideas and content (i.e. using a PDA, Smartphone, USB media player or iPod/iPad). Then using audio playback, they can listen to their ideas and thoughts once or repeated times. This will help re-version the text using hand writing or typing on a keyboard on a computer, notebook or Netbook or by using an onscreen keyboard on an iPad. This may alleviate the stress of trying to remember their ideas or maintain them, whilst creating the text whilst making constant errors. It helps break down the writing task into ‘chunks’, with the device storing the ideas.

Use of Speech Recognition can be useful to students who speak well or who are confident with voice and speech production using programs such as Dragon Naturally Speaking (Windows) or Dragon Dictate for Mac (Mac OS).

c. An Alternate Strategy

Share and stay in touch

Students enjoy taking photographs and/or are adept at locating suitable images on the web (e.g. Google or Bing images, or locating photos on sites such as Flickr) whilst others can sketch, draw and/or paint using software applications. Manual creation of images is also an option with the artwork scanned (A4 to A3 or larger, depending on the scanner model) and then saved on a computer as an electronic image.

Using graphics editing software with simple text labelling, annotation or scripting, educators can cater to some of these struggling students and refocus their writing skills.

Graphics programs may not have been considered as valid literacy tools. Used judiciously, they can provide a range of opportunities for creating text – even just using one word or a simple sentence. With continued use and success, students may re-engage with text creation and try again. They can then slowly and gradually develop more formal writing skills later in traditional tools such as word processing packages, when they are ready and feel that they can cope.

Definitions

Image Editing
‘Image editing encompasses the processes of altering images, whether they are digital photographs, traditional analogue photographs, or illustrations. Traditional analogue image editing is known as photo retouching, using tools such as an airbrush to modify photographs, or editing illustrations with any traditional art medium. Graphic software programs, which can be broadly grouped into vector graphics editors, raster graphics editors, and 3d modellers, are the primary tools with which a user may manipulate, enhance, and transform images. Many image editing programs are also used to render or create computer art from scratch.’ [Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image_editing ]

Graphics Software
‘In computer graphics, graphics software or image editing software is a program or collection of programs that enable a person to manipulate visual images on a computer. Computer graphics can be classified into two distinct categories: raster graphics and vector graphics. Before learning about computer software that manipulates or displays these graphics types, you should be familiar with both… Most graphics programs have the ability to import and export one or more graphics file formats.’ Source: [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graphics_software ]

2. Genres of Graphics Software

In this broad category of software, there are numerous sub categorries or genres that may be considered.

  • Graphics software – raster and vector graphics programs (PhotoShop )
  • Graphics editing software (Irfanview, XnView)
  • Graphics manipulation – special effects/ watermarking / re-colouring / re-touching/ airbrushing
  • Paint programs (Paint.Net, Art Rage, DogWaffle, TuxPaint)
  • Drawing programs (CorelDRAW)
  • Animation – to create animated GIF files
  • Animation – stopmotion/cell animation/photo image manipulation (Stop Motion Pro)
  • Slideshow programs – presentation programs / photo slideshow s / video slideshows (SlideRocket)
  • Desktop Publishing – poster, card, invitation and greetings programs (e.g. Printshop)
  • 3D tools
Screenshot showing a frame of an animation showing a head of a 3d character

Commercial products involve the initial cost of purchase, staff/student training and ongoing upgrading and installation costs as crucial issues to be negotiated and resolved. Technical support may also be a consideration.

There are quite a number of free programs that can be made available at school. The benefit is that they can also be used immediately at home. Studentsand educators alike can learn to master the same tools and use them in any environment – at no cost – except for download time or acquisition by a copy on CD, DVD or USB drive.

Some of these offline programs or online resources have FAQ support and ready access to user groups and forums, so that support, tricks, new ideas, frequently asked questions and graphics methods and techniques are availble.

3. Saving Files with Different Formats

Two 3d animated characters a nun and a whispering boy

Electronic images, photos and graphics can be saved in a number of ways. The physical ‘real’ size and dimensions as well as the resolution will determine the computer storage size, previously measured in Kilobytes (i.e. thousands), now more commonly in Megabytes (i.e. millions). There are different file formats to consider that will ultimately determine the quality of an image and its and actual size. Some formats use compression algorithms to reduce the ‘byte’ size but maintain integrity, with minimal loss of quality. The most common graphic file formats include:

  • BMP — bit mapped picture (each pixel – picture element or dot – is saved)
  • JPG — Joint photographers expert group (JPEG) – reduces or compresses image by a percentage
  • GIF — Animated GIFS are very popular and used extensively on the web
  • TIFF — Tagged Image File Format – popular with printing and desktop publishers
  • EMF — Advanced Windows Metafile
  • PNG — Portable Network Graphic
  • RAW — RAW image data

The Dots per Inch (dpi) is the important consideration as the file size grows exponentially with more ‘dots’. Increased resolution means greater clarity and improved picture quality. Black and white or greyscale images may result in better overall quality in some images that in colour.

4. Commercial and Free Software

PhotoShop CS5/Elements/Lightroom http://www.photoshop.com/ – Commercial
Adobe Illustrator CS5 http://www.adobe.com/products/illustrator/ – Commercial
Corel Paint Shop Pro X3 http://www.corel.com/servlet/Satellite/au/en/Product/1149282603171 – Commercial
Corel DRAW Premium Suite http://www.corel.com/servlet/Satellite/au/en/Product/1149282603171 – Commercial
Corel Painter 12 http://www.corel.com/servlet/Satellite/au/en/Product/1149282603171 – Commercial
Irfanview www.irfanview.com – Freeware
The GIMP http://www.gimp.org/ – Open Source
Deep Paint www.photo-freeware.net/deep-paint.php – Freeware
Paint.Net http://www.getpaint.net/ – Freeware
XnViewer http://www.xnview.com/en/index.html – Freeware
DogWaffle http://www.thebest3d.com/dogwaffle/free/index.html – Freeware
Art Rage Studio/Pro/V2.6/iPad http://www.artrage.com/index.html – Commercial
Foto Tagger http://sourceforge.net/projects/fototagger/ – Open Source
Photo to Sketch V4 (standard) http://www.thinkersoftware.com/photo-to-sketch/index2.htm – Freeware
Picasa 3.8 http://picasa.google.com/ – Free
KidPix 3D/ V4.1 http://www.edsoft.com.au/kid-pix-3d – Commercial
TuxPaint http://tuxpaint.org/ – Open Source

Animation Software

Stop Motion Pro http://www.stopmotionpro.com/ – Commercial
Adobe Flash Professional http://www.adobe.com/products/flash/ – Commercial
Comic Life http://plasq.com/products/comiclife/win – Commercial
Animata http://animata.kibu.hu/ – freeware
Ani-Mato http://www.sci.fi/~animato/ – freeware
Kahootz V3 http://www.kahootz.com/kz/ – Commercial

Slide Show Makers

Photo Story 3/Windows Live Photo Gallery 2011 http://explore.live.com/windows-live-photo-gallery?os=other – Free
MS PowerPoint (PC and MAC) http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/powerpoint/ – Commercial
Open Office – Presenter www.openoffice.org – Open Source
Tarheel Readers www.tarheelreader.org – Free to create online or download up to 16,000 examples
iLife (MacOS) http://www.apple.com/ilife/ – Commercial
Animoto http://animoto.com/ – Free online tool to create slideshows
SlideRocket http://www.sliderocket.com/ – Commercial

Avatar Creation

Crazy Talk 6/ Animator
CrazyTalk Animator for Evolutional 2D animation icon
http://www.reallusion.com/crazytalk/ – Commercial
Voki http://www.voki.com/ – free
Avatar Sizer http://www.avatar1.com/avatar-software/ – free

Web Image Sources

Flickr (from Yahoo) http://www.flickr.com/ – free
Google Images http://www.google.com/imghp – free
Bing Images http://www.bing.com/images – free

Card/Poster/Calendar Maker

Printshop 23 Deluxe http://www.broderbund.com/c-31-the-print-shop.aspx – Commercial
Print Master 2011 http://www.printmaster.com/ – Commercial

5. Universal Access using Graphics and Drawing Software

Using an integrated approach to language and building students’ vocabulary skills strengthens their literacy skills beyond writing, reading and speaking. Stimulating students’ imaginations and allowing them to be creative presents a number of opportunities when using genres such as graphic editing and manipulation, avatar creation, animation and video production.

Picasa icon

Creative thinking involves designing, planning and creating something new or original. It involves the skills of originality, elaboration, flexibility, brainstorming, modification and imagery. The aim of creative thinking is to promote new thinking and stimulate curiosity. The use of keywords, personal experiences using strong visual imagery and topic interlinking, supports Iogical, linguistic, visual and auditory learning.

Creating new visuals, including avatars and printed materials, contributes significantly to improved critical thinking, problem posing, problem solving and decision-making. Students can build skills in interpretation, manipulation, communication and understanding of complex symbols. It promotes and regularly engages multiple abilities and skills, expanding upon previous endeavours and forging new pathways to greater understanding. Most importantly, it allows for ownership and authentic learning experiences.

6. Ideas and Strategies

Photo Story 3 for Windows welcome screen

Students might choose to use any one of these graphics or animation programs. The initial goal would be to take a photograph using a digital device (camera, iPod, Smartphone). Then the student would save it to a device (e.g. computer or digital tablet). Naming the file using consistent rules or conventions and storing it in a logical, safe location is the ideal. Note: The digital capture device and computer will record the date acquired or saved (i.e. to the second).

The teacher, aide or trainer should encourage the use of one or two programs that the year level or school or training centre uses or has purchased/installed.

The aim of the exercise might be to:

  • Label or tag the image (once or numerous times) – e.g. Irfanview, the GIMP, PhotoShop
  • Write a word, phrase or sentence about the image (e.g. MS PowerPoint or SlideRocket, TarHeel Reader)
  • Superimpose some word art over the image, beside or below it (e.g. Photo Story 3, Foto Tagger)
  • Create a special effect using a mouse or graphics tablet, drawing the outline of some text on the image/photo
  • Create an Avatar (Crazy Talk or Voki) and write a brief script or dialogue

Programs such as Photo Story 3 provide opportunities for students to use their own photos or those images acquired from other sources, to create a video file. Each photo can contain text, a sound effect or narration as well as special visual effects and transitions. One or more MP3 music tracks can run through part or all of the video. It is a perfect tool for disengaged or struggling students as it is task oriented with easy navigation and an intuitive interface. Text input can be as simple as a character, word or phrase. Up to two sentences can be accommodated if desired. Images with embedded text can also be used (using tools such as Foto Tagger or Photo to Sketch).

Crazy Talk provides opportunities for students of all abilities to use existing images, avatars or photos of people or animals and make them fully animated together with emotions and facial gestures. It is a fun program with so many different options and features. Once again, text can be scripted and typed or a student’s voice can be used for the avatar. Voki is a free online tool well worth exploring.

7. In Conclusion

This article is a brief overview of what is possible. Language Arts is a broad area of the curriculum. Many students feel uncomfortable writing or typing. Some need time to develop their ideas. Others need more planning time and strategies. Yet others are disorganised and have great difficulty negotiating a new task or essay or piece of creative writing.

Many capable students have original concepts or ideas, but their writing, typing, spelling, grammar, punctuation or vocabulary skills may be poor. They need another way to express them. Students often feel compromised as they want to participate but cannot find the words or construct the appropriate language in a timely manner. Looking at a blank word processing screen can be daunting. Just getting that first sentence typed can cause students to use all manner of creative avoidance strategies – usually involving some deterrent or sanction.

Irfanview tool bar

Graphics, painting, drawing, animation, sketching, doodling and avatar creation software programs are another gateway to language expression, using more visual and creative software programs and approaches. Many programs include text to speech, with some providing for recorded speech (e.g. Photo Story 3, MS PowerPoint, Crazy Talk, Voki). Others can capture and use photos and video content.

Animation of a typewriter working with mice looking around

iPads and other handheld devices are being used more in classrooms. With the launch of the iPad 2, the range of apps is growing in scope, functions, capability and flexibility, with more features being added. These are excellent resources for creating simple to complex language using fun, exciting and engaging apps.

Not only can students surf the web and research, but they can take quick notes, make comments on social web sites and use painting, drawing and photo manipulation apps to express themselves.

Paint palette

As educators, we must investigate the options and trial something new. We need to move outside our comfort zones and take a risk. Learning a new program can be time consuming, but working with the students to explore a web site or software package can reap untold rewards, as well as stimulating ourselves and incorporating eLearning in a meaningful way.

All students enjoy change and usually respond positively. Those that struggle can embrace a technology that they like using. It can help to show and display their skills and talents, using their alternative and multiple intelligences. The resources are available, and it is all possible. Changing our perceptions as to the acquisition of literacy will require a repertoire of different approaches.

Not all methodologies accommodate all learning styles. This may be another approach to trial. Working with the students, collaborating and sharing experiences will engender increased trust and a willingness to participate and ‘have a go’.

Resources:

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About Gerry Kennedy

Gerry Kennedy is an Independent Information and Inclusive Technology Consultant, working in private practice in Melbourne, Australia. He has specialised in the areas of special needs, rehabilitation and assistive technology support in education and employment for over 27 years. A teacher of 31 years, he currently works at East Burwood SDS school part time, as an ICT Teacher.

Gerry has had experience working in all states in Australia and Territories. He advises from Early Education and Pre-school through to secondary schools, having lectured to TAFE and University to under and post graduates. He frequently publishes articles and software reviews on numerous web sites and in journals and magazines.

Gerry promotes leading practice in the implementation and deployment of innovative ICT and Inclusive Technology in education and training. He consults, trains and advises parents, therapists, and other education and therapy related professionals as well as school personnel in how best to utilise and harness the features and functions of mainstream and specialised software as well as assistive device implementation.

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