BY LISA HERVEY

Many K-12 teachers are very interested in and/or are already effectively leveraging free Web 2.0 tools and other forms of media (audio/video) in their classrooms. This reality was especially evident to me this summer as I worked with teachers from all over the country at The New Literacies Teacher Leader Institute, a week-long professional development institute that focused on new literacies and associated Web 2.0 tools and multimedia.

Several of the teachers attending the institute work with student populations such as English as a Second Language (ESL), Hearing Impaired (HI) and Visually Impaired (VI). Many of the internet-based tools and applications available to teachers are certainly wonderful, but may immediately marginalize these same students. Tools that use English in text or audio may not be accessible to an ESL student. Videos and podcasts may prove difficult for students with hearing impairments. Engaging with tools or media that have small fonts and or images may be untenable for visually impaired students.

So this got me thinking about how to be transformative with some of my favorite tools and media forms to fully engage all students, especially these disenfranchised student groups. I love using Voki , a customizable speaking avatar that accepts text, as well as recordings using your built-in computer microphone and/or audio files. Voki provides several HTML code options for your finished avatar that can be embedded into most wikis or blogs. I was thinking, how could we use Voki for ESL students?

I went to http://babelfish.yahoo.com/translate_txt and typed in a sentence. I selected to have it translated from English to Spanish. I copied the translation and used the text option in Voki, selected a matching accent (Spanish) and voice (Isabella) and pasted the translation into the box and it worked! Babelfish will translate English to Chinese, Russian etc. Think about the possibilities! Here is my Voki speaking in Spanish!

So this is helpful for students who are ESL and/or have VI. What about students with HI? Well, one option would be to use a video recorder, like a Flip camera , to record somebody signing what you have had the Voki say. Then you embed the Voki avatar and interpretation video side by side in a wiki, for example. Now to take the Voki a step further and leverage within another of of my favorite Web 2.0 tools, Trailfire. Trailfire is a web tool that allows users to save a series of web pages about some topic with a virtual sticky note attached to each web page. The sticky notes can be annotated with comments, directions or questions, and the trail link can be shared with other users or students for their perusal.

This approach is an easy way for teachers and students to cull a cohesive set of resources about some topic much like you would do for a web quest activity. If you used a Voki to leave your comments, directions or questions for each web page, you could better engage students with reading difficulties or students with VI. Plus you could have the Voki speak in different languages. This method could support and enhance the multiple learning styles found in all classrooms. Here is a screencast on how to do it. (You can find more videos like this on New LiteraciesCollaborative.)

Teachers are bombarded with ever more exciting and innovative tools. I believe teachers feel pressure to use the latest and greatest tool. I would rather see teachers employ a series of tools that they know very well and spend their energies innovating around that tool so they are fully supporting and enhancing the learning of ALL the students they serve in their classroom.

Voki

Trailfire

Voki and Trailfire Mashup video

Related stuff:

Free library for people with disabilities at Bookshare

Let Your Overpriced Computer Do Your Reading for You