“DON’T STOP BELIEVING, THESE WORDS ARE MEANT FOR DICTATING…” THE UNTAPPED POTENTIAL OF KURZWEIL 3000 AS AN ALTERNATIVE TEXT TO SPEECH PROGRAM FOR SPECIAL EDUCATIONAL NEEDS TEACHERS

J. Phayer

Mary Immaculate College (IRELAND)
The purpose of this paper depicts a study aimed at exploring primary and post-primary teacher’s experiences of learning to use the Kurzweil 3000 Text to Speech application in an Information Communication Technology (I.C.T.) in Special Educational Needs (S.E.N.) course as part of a Continuing Professional Development programme over two 5 week period blocks (i.e. 10 weeks in total). The course was organised and delivered in both an Education Centre and a post primary school and was offered to Learning Support and Resource primary and post primary school teachers who came from different teaching backgrounds. A questionnaire was developed by the researcher and administered to the participants to explore a number of themes like (a) teachers opinions about the usability of Kurzweil 3000 (b) the benefits of using Kurzweil 3000 and ongoing support in the use of the application (c) teachers viewpoints about ICT in SEN tuition and their interest in learning more about and using other Assistive Technology applications. Interviews were also used to obtain extra information and used to build upon the data acquired in the questionnaires. Of the twenty one teachers who signed up for this course, fourteen of them fully participated in it and were also taught how to use other Assistive Technology programs based on time availability. Despite that, the main aim of the study was placed on examining how the teachers managed learning to use Kurzweil 3000. The findings which evolved demonstrated that the majority of participants found Kurzweil highly useful to operate and quite important for their teaching and student needs than using other Assistive Technology applications. One possible method of improving Kurzweil 3000 might be to develop a voice training program to be used as an extra tool in the application. Education Centres constantly play a critical role in updating the knowledge and skills of teachers in the use of Special Educational technology as well as increasing the roll out of ICT in SEN courses for teachers. Finally, the Kurzweil 3000 facilities cited as being of extreme benefit for these teachers were (a) the Reading / Writing buttons, (b) Synonyms tool, (c) Definition facility and Font facility while the (e) spell check button and (f) mind mapping tools showed quite high results as well. At the same time, the most problematic buttons found by the same cohort of participants were (a) the Bookmarking facility, (b) Column notes facility, (c) Note Snippets facility and (d) Floating Word lists.