Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). Library Services are dedicated to working towards making our physical and digital spaces inclusive. Here we share 5 tips, tools and resources for accessible remote learning for everyone.
Understanding, organising and retaining information can be challenging. While studying and working we often need to compose and organise our written work, understand complex topics and retain information. Mindmapping can be an excellent tool to help us meet these challenges.
Depending on the task at hand mindmapping can be useful for almost everyone, but can be particularly useful for Neurodiverse profiles such as Dyslexic learners.
Mindmapping is a way of graphically representing a topic, concept or problem, so we can visualise it, making it easier to understand. Mindmapping is a versatile technique which can have many applications. Here are some examples:
Mindmapping is a great way to brainstorm. You can use it to better capture your thoughts or start exploring a topic. You may find that it can help to stimulate and generate more ideas.
Capturing all of your ideas can reduce the load on your working memory. Once you can see your ideas together on one page, you can then edit and arrange them into a more organised structure. This is also useful for group brainstorms, try it on our large screens in the group study rooms and technobooths.
Planning and organising
Bring order to chaos. Before you start a task it’s a good idea to plan how you are going to do it. Mindmapping can help you plan written work such as an essay. With most digital mindmaps, as you build your map you can add more substantial notes to ideas. This means that when you export your finished mindmap into a Word document you have a logical outline structure and some content to get started with.
You could even use a mindmap to plan your research or literature search in an academic database, plotting out which keywords, synonyms and antonyms you are going to use.
Make your revision notes into a map. When trying to recall information it’s easier to remember the spatial layout of a map rather than linear notes. Add additional memory hooks, such as colour and images, which can prompt you to recall the associated concepts.
Breaking down complex ideas
Some topics are complicated such as land law, who is related to who in Wuthering Heights, or potential Brexit scenarios, requiring flow charts and maps to make visual sense. It’s difficult to keep all that information in your head or to understand the connections when going backwards and forwards though linear notes.
So, how can I start mindmapping?
To me, Mindmapping has no strict rules, but there are some basic guiding principles you may wish to follow to keep your map effective:
- Put your topic or essay title in the centre this is useful for keeping you on track or remind you to answer the question in hand.
- Use single keywords (or very short phrases) so you can see at a glance what the map means when you come back to it. Key words are easier to digest and remember if you are using the map for revision. Keywords are also useful because at the mapping stage our ideas may not be fully formed sentences, but we can still easily capture and build on them.
Using MindGenius software
MindGenius 2019 software is now available on any City student Windows pc.
Staff can download the software onto their City staff desktop computer via the Software Centre. MindGenius is excellent for project management and has some advanced features to facilitate this, such as the ability to create a Gantt chart from your map at the click of a button.
The software is simple to use with “type and return” functionality to build you map. You can also:
- Add attachments to keep the documents you are reading for a project or essay organised by linking them to relevant branches within the map.
- Add notes: Add more substantial notes to each branch. As mentioned, this feature is excellent when planning an essay.
- Export to Word: You can export your finished mind map to Word to create draft written work. In Word you will have a linear structure to work with along with your added notes.
- Export to PowerPoint: You can use the software to help plan and create presentations.
- The mental connection tool allows you to link ideas on different areas of you map and describe the relationship between them.
- Categories and Filter: You can use colours to code or categorise ideas across your map. If your map becomes quite large and complex you can filter by category to concentrate on particular themes.
- Templates such as the SWOT and PEST analysis can help encourage exploration of a topic and apply critical thinking to it.
- If you’re really not sure where to start there are guided brainstorm tools, such as ‘solution finder’ and ‘question sets’.
A real life example
I find mindmapping incredibly useful for organising complex, but otherwise unordered ideas. To write this article I planned it first in Mind Genius.
I started by brainstorming in an unstructured way, getting every one of my ideas down on the page (which is very cathartic!). This reduced the load on my working memory. I also used the Who? What? Where? When? Question set to stimulate more ideas and identify gaps in my thinking.
Once all my ideas were on the page I could move on to organising and structuring the information using the drag and drop functionality to group ideas which came under the same theme.
Then I could think more critically and reject any of the weaker or less relevant ideas. i.e. in this article I’m not going to talk about other mindmapping software so I have deleted those branches on review.
If you need help or have any questions about Mind Genius contact us. We’d like to hear what you think so please add your comments below or share with fellow students how mind mapping works for you.
You’ve probably noticed that many of the items on your reading lists come as e-books. E-books are great in several ways:
- They’re available 24/7
- They can be accessed on and off campus
- They’re often great for readers using assistive software
- You won’t ever have to worry about forgetting to renew them on time
- You can search within the text of an e-book to find the thing you want really quickly.
You’ve probably also noticed that different e-books look and function differently.
That’s because we purchase titles from different publishers and providers and so the rules about access and use can vary.
To help answer questions you might have about using e-books, we have created an online guide which you can access via the Library website. As well as some general information about using e-books, the guide has detailed sections on each of our main suppliers, offering tips on the different features available, troubleshooting advice, plus links to more information if you need it.
All of our e-books can be accessed via CityLibrary Search – just click on the ‘Full Text Online’ link when it appears in the search results.
We have thousands of titles available online and we’re acquiring new ones all the time (for example, the clickable images scrolling above) so whatever your research or personal interests, there should always be something for you, available when you need it.
City Library Services are pleased to offer the latest version of TextHelp Read&Write 12. Read&Write is a collection of tools to support your reading and writing. This application is often recommended for students who have a learning difference such as dyslexia, but the support tools can be beneficial for everyone.
Use the Text to Speech reader:
- As a proofreading tool to identify mistakes and check the flow and structure of your written work. I find this technique useful because I sometimes write in overly long sentences. Listening back to my work really helps me identify when I’ve done this.
- To listen back to Word documents, PDFs and webpages. This reading strategy can help maintain focus, aid comprehension, and reduce the load on your working memory.
- You can choose to have the software track and highlight as it reads, helping you maintain focus on the text you are reading.
Using the Audio Maker you can transform a selection of text into an audio file. This is a great productivity tool because it allows you to listen to information on the go.
A Screen Masking tool, which allows you to apply a tint to the screen to create a more comfortable reading environment and improve focus, is also available.
TextHelp’s online guides show you the full range of tools available. You can also find short video tours in the Read&Write information menu.
This software is available to all City students. Find it in the programmes menu on any student PC. Search for “Read&Write”.
For more information on the benefits of text-to-speech see The British Dyslexia Association guidance on technology.
Today is World Mental Health Day. Library Services and the Student Counselling and Mental Health Service have worked collaboratively to bring students and staff a selection of self-help resources which have been displayed together in this new self-help resource page (select the book jacket to find availability in the Library).
This resource includes a large selection of books recommended by Reading Well, books on prescription, a scheme supported by research and endorsed by health professionals. Titles address common issues and mental health conditions and are designed to help you understand and manage your mental health and wellbeing. Resources are intended to be used either as stand-alone self-help or to compliment counselling or mental health support.
If you have any personal or academic matters that are causing you distress or a diagnosed mental health condition, contact the Student Counselling & Mental Health Service for emotional and practical support.
If you are a member of staff the Staff Counselling Service can be accessed through the Occupational Health Service.
This post will consider the benefits of speech-to-text tools. It will discuss software available at City with speech-to-text capability and also some free options.
It’s that time of year when you might be writing up a dissertation or thesis, or you may be using time over summer to reflect and explore new ways of working. Speech-to-text (also known as dictation or voice activation) could be the tool you’re looking for, helping to take the pain or strain out of typing.
3 ways speech-to-text can support your writing:
- Convenience and productivity. Once you get the hang of using dictation software it can be much faster than typing. Additionally, some programmes allow you to create a voice shortcut which can pop a whole phrase into your document.
- Neurodiverse learners. If you find it easier to verbalise your ideas, speech-to-text software frees you up to focus on what you want to say instead of on typing, spelling and editing text. Most software successfully does the spelling for you using an integrated dictionary.
- Reduce the barriers associated with typing which can cause or worsen fatigue or strain. Some speech to text programmes allow you to control and navigate your way around the computer. In documents you are working on, you can use your voice to format text, correct mistakes and punctuate your work.
Where can I access speech to text?
- For students registered and referred for this service by Learning Success, Dragon Professional is available in the Assistive Technology Centre (Individual rooms only), Northampton Square Library Level 2.
- Type with your voice, is available in Google Docs when using the Chrome browser
- io online dictation . This clever little tool comes with a recommendation from our friends in Learning Success. Emma Allsopp, Neurodiversity Support tutor says:
“ dictation.io has been so easy to access (via Google Chrome) and then use for transcribing some interviews I’ve been doing with students lately. I’ve avoided the hassles of press, rewind, type, pick up Dictaphone… and instead talked and let the computer do the typing. There are some of the usual hiccups, like study skills became daddy skills and, as for good, well… but it still saved me ages in write-up time. It’s even responsive to punctuation instructions. Worth a try for getting round those writing blocks, whatever shape they come in!”
Some points to consider:
- It can take a bit of getting used to. The software may not recognise what you are saying straight away and may need a little training.
- You will need somewhere quiet to use the software – not just so you don’t disturb others, but your microphone will pick up other noises that may effect accuracy.
- Speak clearly and at a normal speed and volume, speaking too slowly or loudly may effect recognition accuracy.
I used Dragon to draft this article.
McLoughlin, D. and Leather, C. (2013) The Dyslexic Adult: Interventions and Outcomes – an Evidence-based Approach, Second Edition, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, Oxford, UK. doi: 10.1002/9781118323373
This post explores text-to-speech as a reading support tool. It will discuss software available at City with text-to-speech capability and also some free options.
Text-to-speech at City
TextHelp Read&Write software is a suite of accessibility and organisational tools in one convenient toolbar, designed to support the reading and writing of students of all abilities. You can use the toolbar with most programmes such as Word documents, PDFs and online content. A key tool in the Read&Write suite is the Text-to-speech reader which can be used to support your reading and writing in several ways:
6 ways text-to-speech can support your reading:
- Read&Write reads aloud as it highlights words and passages simultaneously; helping to improve engagement, reading fluency, focus and comprehension.
- Text-to-speech supports neurodiverse learners, such as learners with dyslexia. Using text-to-speech software, the emphasis shifts to “listening rather than reading comprehension. Taking away the process of recognising words reduces the load on working memory significantly, and [you] are better able to focus on content.” McLoughlin, D. and Leather, C. (2013)
- Listening back to written work is a helpful proofreading strategy. This can make it easier to identify mistakes. “It is easier to anticipate what one thinks is on the page, rather than what has actually been written.” McLoughlin, D. and Leather, C. (2013). Listening to your whole document can also help you check if the structure is logical and the text flows well.
- Improve your productivity: save text as an MP3 file using the Speechmaker tool so you can listen on the go. Find a short taster below.
- Listening to and reading text simultaneously can support English language learners.
- If your eyes become tired when reading, you can listen to the text instead.
…or you may simply want to experiment with a new way of reading.
You can choose from several synthesised voices and highlighting colour schemes. Synthesised voices are computer generated, they are not human but they do sound fairly natural. Here’s a short taster of a text-to-speech audio file:
Watch the short video to see it in action:
Additional support tools in Read&Write include:
- Screen masking and tinting can help if you have dyslexia and visual stress.
- Confusable word (homophone) checker identifies and checks words in your written work which sound similar but have different meanings.
- Word prediction is a similar tool to predictive text on your phone. You can import your own bank of subject specific vocabulary into the prediction tool.
- Study skills highlights. Colour code sections of text across documents and collect them into a single document.
Where can I find it?
Read&Write is available to all City students, you can find it in the programmes menu on the student PCs. The software is designed to be tailored to suit your needs and will save your preferences for when you next log-in.
If you don’t work on a PC there are some other tools you could try.
To activate “Speech” on the iPad follow these simple instructions:
1. Go to: Settings > General > Accessibility:
2. Speech: Speak Selection, Speak Screen, Speak Auto-text
3. Swipe two fingers down the screen to listen to the contents of the screen.
You can borrow an iPad from the Northampton Square Library service desk.
Use the Capti app on a City Library iPad. Set up a personal account and you can use the free version of the app to listen to a range of formats such as Word documents, PDFs, webpages and EPUBs. There is also an online version you can use on a pc or mac.
If you would like to know more, contact me, Jessica Wykes.
McLoughlin, D. and Leather, C. (2013) The Dyslexic Adult: Interventions and Outcomes – an Evidence-based Approach, Second Edition, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, Oxford, UK. doi: 10.1002/9781118323373
Mind mapping is an active and visual way of representing information. Unlike linear notes (traditional notes written out), with a mind map you can view all of your notes on one page and visually identify structure and relationships more effectively.
You can use old fashioned paper and pencils or mind mapping software to create one. Just add your main idea or goal to the centre, then, using keywords add your main topics, and then your sub topics to those and so on.
6 ways mind mapping can support your studies
- Planning: You can use mind maps to help plan a project, essay or assignment. Creating a mind map can help you get all your ideas down, hone the structure, and generate and develop new content. Some software allows you to export your map’s hierarchy to a Word document so you can flesh out the bare bones of the framework. (I made a mind map to plan out this article!)
- Revision: Create an overview of the subject area. Some software include a notes field for adding longer sections of text. You could use these to enter answers to main questions and test yourself. Mind maps are an active way of learning. They can be multi-sensory – associating colours, images and keywords with information could create a hook for memory recall. You could think about displaying completed maps on a wall so you look at them often.
- Notetaking: Make notes from one study text or more using the chapters as thematic structure. This is a more active way to engage with material where there is scope to add your own thoughts and ideas. Again, you can see the overview while also breaking the subject down into manageable sections, making it understandable.
- Brainstorming or group projects: Working collaboratively on a mind map helps all members of the group see discussion areas and/or areas of work allocated to them. Mind maps can help you stick to the chosen topics but also stimulate more ideas. Use the large screens in the group study rooms or the technobooths for maximum effect.
- Representing complex ideas and concepts: Mind maps can help you easily see how ideas relate to one another and also see the “bigger picture” when it can be easy to get bogged down in detail.
- Productivity: Software allows you to move ideas around on the page, export an outline to Word, and add your own notes and links to reading materials.
Tony Buzan the originator of mind mapping says that Imagination + Association = Memory. In your mind map try using colour coding, mnemonics, or “memory palace” (Method of Loci) to make examples really come to life (the more vivid, humorous and unusual you make them the more memorable).
For making mind maps City has a very easy to use software called Inspiration. You can find Inspiration in the programmes menu on all City student computers.
Right at the top of our agenda is trying to make using the Library as straightforward as possible for our users and one of the key weapons in our arsenal is self-service. Whether it’s using our self-check machines to borrow items, or now collecting your requested items without needing to come to the Service Desk, we’re constantly thinking of ways in which our services can work seamlessly and better for you: helping you to help yourselves to all of the resources at your disposal.
You can use our self-check machines to borrow or renew items, some of them allow you to return items too: and if you know the secret password, they’ll even tell your fortune. Of course, staff are always on hand to help out if needed, so on the rare occasions that something doesn’t work or goes wrong, we’re there ready to step in and solve the problem: although we can’t take responsibility for errors related to predictions of the future (it’s not an exact science).
(Thanks to Mahvesh from our Law Library Team for suggesting self-service as the latest Library Staff Love feature).
While the Assistive Technology Centre remains closed due to a major leak; we have made three alternative PCs available.
We have made three pcs in the Northampton Square Library bookable by students referred for ATC access, until the Centre reopens. Two PCs are available in Level 6 silent study PC lab and one PC is available on Level 2. The following software is available on these pcs:
- ZoomText magnifier/reader
- TextHelp Read&Write (includes text-to-speech output)
- Inspiration (mindmapping)
Level 2 PC NAME: NSQU0201A02 (opposite the technobooths)
Level 6 PC NAMES: NSQB0602A01 & NSQB0602A04
You can book the pcs via the usual booking system.
Each machine is labelled but please contact a member of staff if you require assistance locating or vacating the machine.
A small number of noise cancelling headphones and noise isolating headphones can be borrowed from the Library Service Desk on Level 2.