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 https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/readwrite-for-google/inoeonmfapjbbkmdafoankkfajkcphgd