New tools will make online courses more accessible

Florida Virtual School's latest innovations could help students with reading disabilities.
Florida Virtual School's latest innovations could help students with reading disabilities.

Florida Virtual School (FLVS), a pioneer in K-12 online learning, is adding to its reputation as a national innovator with the introduction of read-aloud functionality and other accessibility tools in its online courses.

The announcement, made in the school’s home state at the 2010 Florida Education Technology Conference (FETC) in mid-January, means students taking FLVS courses soon will be able to use a built-in text-to-speech reader and other tools designed to make online courses more accessible to students with a range of learning challenges.

Through a new partnership with technology provider Texthelp Systems, FLVS courses will be updated to include a toolbar with read-aloud functionality, as well as study skills tools, a dictionary, English to Spanish translation, and a research tool for conducting web searches on any selected word.

“By embedding Texthelp’s technologies into our courses, we will be able to consistently meet the needs of students who have a learning disability or who struggle with the English language. Even students with mild vision impairments or those who suffer from eye strain will benefit from the new course enhancements,” said Joy Smith, chief development officer for FLVS.

The read-aloud functionality allows students to click on a sentence to hear the content read aloud. As students hear a word read aloud, the word is simultaneously highlighted on the screen.

FLVS’ Curriculum Research and Discovery team has conducted a pilot project to test how Texthelp’s SpeechStream product would work. The team piloted the program in select modules of two different FLVS courses, Science and World History. The results of the pilot showed that the new tools gave struggling readers the support they needed to be more successful in their courses, school officials said.

Over the next several months, more FLVS courses will include Texthelp’s SpeechStream reading support technology.

In other FETC-related news, Agilix Labs has teamed up with FLVS to introduce a Learning Continuity solution that helps school systems deliver uninterrupted instruction in the event of an emergency by giving them access to fully accredited online courses.

Learning Continuity combines online course content from FLVS with the BrainHoney personalized learning platform from Agilix to help keep students learning, regardless of the circumstances.

All of FLVS’ courses are available through the Learning Continuity offering, and teachers can use BrainHoney to map lessons and course modules with their specific state standards, Agilix said.

FLVS was the nation’s first statewide public virtual high school. Founded in 1997, it now serves thousands of full- and part-time students in grades K-12 from across the country and the world.

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