Technology Enhances Learning at Cerritos College
For Immediate Release: October 16, 2007
Media Contact:Allison Abel, Public Affairs; (562) 860-2451, ext. 7878
NORWALK, CA — October 16, 2007—With the proliferation of technology in recent years, educators have become increasingly competent at using these new tools to create better learning environments. One innovative example of this is the Kurzweil 3000 program, a text-to-speech tool. The many features of the program have been used at Cerritos College to assist visually impaired students, as well as those with learning disabilities who have trouble interacting with and synthesizing printed material.
Now, however, it’s becoming apparent that the software can be a valuable tool for all learners.
“Kurzweil has traditionally been used for students with dyslexia and other disabilities, but its features are such that it is beneficial across the board,” says Stacey Kayden, a learning disabilities specialist from Laney Community College in Oakland, Calif.
Kayden has taken the lead in broadening the appeal of the program beyond students with learning disabilities. She travels around the state giving workshops to specialists and faculty members, showing them how to take advantage of all the valuable features of the program. At a recent workshop at Cerritos College, educators from many different schools received training to help them more fully utilize the program’s capabilities.
Kurzweil has many valuable features built into it. Designed to expand on the concept of e-books, the interface allows students to take notes on the material in a separate window side-by-side with their on-screen text. It enables highlighting of the material, and also boasts a tool which extracts highlighted material into an instant, student-generated study guide.
In addition, the program can be used to teach study strategies to students. Instructors using the programs for their classes can insert their own comments into the text, pointing out areas that they particularly want students to be familiar with. As they see notes made by instructors, students gain the benefit of learning how to read actively and observing how to interact with the text. Feedback from students also indicates that they love knowing what to study, and what not to study, pointed out for them as they read.
The program even helps students with their writing. “Many times when students review their own papers, they read what’s in their minds—what they think they’ve written—rather than what’s actually on the paper,” says Kayden. “The result is omitted words and other errors. But when you have a program read your paper back to you, the mistakes become much more obvious, and students are far more likely to catch them. The program will even let you edit your paper as you listen.”
Kayden says she’s gotten a lot of positive feedback. “Students love it,” she says. “It seems to really help improve their focus. With Kurzweil, the textbook becomes more engaging.
“Students in this day and age are interactive and connected. They are constantly text messaging and connecting with each other on MySpace. Then they come to class, and when education doesn’t follow that, they’re not engaged.”
According to Kayden, one of the most appealing aspects of the program is its ability to level the playing field for students. “In classrooms where the program is used by all the students, everyone is able to keep up. Visually-impaired students lose their disadvantage; students with weak reading skills no longer have such a giant impediment. The program helps all learners progress at a similar pace.”
The program also boasts a valuable feature for ESL students; a built-in dictionary allows them to highlight unfamiliar words and access definitions instantly, without the hassle of large, clumsy reference books.
Cynthia Alexander, department chair of educational technology at Cerritos College, teaches a class designed to help instructors effectively use assistive technology in the classroom. Many of her students, she says, are actually Cerritos College faculty members themselves. In the past, she’s required her students to work with the program so that they can use it to assist students with disabilities in their own classrooms. Alexander attended the Kayden’s recent workshop to learn how to more fully take advantage of the program’s features. With her new knowledge, she plans on requiring her students to explore more features in the program, enabling them to better serve their own students in turn.
One of the drawbacks of the Kurzweil program is the expense involved. Students at Cerritos College get free access on campus, but studying at home again becomes a chore, especially for students with disabilities. For this reason, Mary Hunt, a learning disability specialist in the Disabled Student Programs and Services (DSPS) at Cerritos College, created a scholarship opportunity for its students— DSPS students who become proficient at using the Kurzweil program qualify to apply for the Kurzweil scholarship. The scholarship, which was recently funded by the Cerritos College Foundation, provides one recipient per academic year with the Kurzweil read-version software.
“We are committed to helping all students achieve their education goals, regardless of the hardships they face,” says Hunt. “The Kurzweil program is a big step toward making that happen.”
To learn more about the Kurzweil 3000 program, or to obtain information about an upcoming conference designed to help educators adapt the program to general education classes, visit collegeinfocus.com or email Stacey Kayden at email@example.com.
Cerritos College serves as a comprehensive community college for southeastern Los Angeles County. Communities within the college's district include Artesia, Bellflower, Cerritos, Downey, Hawaiian Gardens, La Mirada, Norwalk, and portions of Bell Gardens, Lakewood, Long Beach, Santa Fe Springs and South Gate. Cerritos College offers degrees and certificates in more than 180 areas of study in nine divisions. Annually, more than 1,200 students successfully complete their course of studies, and enrollment currently surpasses 20,000 students. Visit Cerritos College online at http://www.cerritos.edu/.