When Jeremy Olguin, accessible technology manager at California State University, Chico in Northern California, wanted his institution’s Universal Design for Learning project to make a campuswide impact, he knew it would require a cultural shift.
“When we started to look at the technology in these silos, we saw that when we gave it out to one student, we affected one student,” Olguin says. “If we gave it out to faculty members and staff, then we affected 260 students and beyond.”
Kurzweil 3000 was one technology that could benefit all students, faculty and staff, Olguin says.
Kurzweil 3000 helps those with reading or learning difficulties increase their reading speed and comprehension. It allows users to listen to virtually any scanned document or other electronic file through high-quality synthetic speech in multiple languages. Users choose the voice, speed and highlighting colors for text. Additionally, users can type in their own documents to hear their words spoken. Other features include a spell-checker and word prediction to help users better express ideas. Users can highlight text, make voice or written notes, and add bookmarks in documents.
Olguin says Kurzweil 3000 was used for nine years by students with vision impairments, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or diagnosed learning challenges, but there was support from the administration to implement it campuswide. Now, in the first year of the wider rollout, there are 600 additional users.
The program is available via download or cloud-based application, and the institution and Kurzweil Education created single sign-on access.
A political science professor at CSU, Chico used Kurzweil 3000 to add her voice to notes and class presentation slides, and there was a significant increase in engagement as measured by the weekly hours students spent accessing course materials, Olguin reports.
“We feel like we’re giving people pieces of their lives back with this software, and we’ve started to see the results of that just in the number of hours that people are using it.”
Kurzweil 3000 also offers support for staff whose first language is not English. Olguin says the facilities management department provided training for custodians and was able to translate the previous English-only written training material into multiple languages.
The broad rollout of Kurzweil 3000 has helped both students and faculty, Olguin says. “Students who don’t have a disability but know they are slow readers or comprehend things better in an audio format can use the program without having to sign up for a service,” he explains.
“Faculty can speed read and get through material faster, regardless of whether it’s emails, student papers or their own research projects. We feel like we’re giving people pieces of their lives back with this software, and we’ve started to see the results of that just in the number of hours that people are using it.”
Assistive technology that engages students, faculty and staff
Kurzweil 3000 provides accessible text and audio-based accommodations for all learners
What are some of the student success challenges in higher ed?
There are persistent challenges with retention and dropout rates for English language learners, underprepared students, and students with diagnosed learning difficulties or visual impairments. Additionally, there are student mental health and anxiety issues. These challenges are not unique to any institution, but that does not make it any easier to prepare for them. All of these populations on campus have so much content to consume. We need assistive technology and simple-to-use tools that reinforce executive functioning skills and the process of thinking and articulation. These are foundational for post-college success.
How can institutions address these challenges and ensure a positive higher ed experience?
First, any solution cannot be temporary or superficial. Faculty need to engage students in meaningful learning. Students need to be able to digest course lectures and materials using formats that spur their personal learning, but they also need to be able to communicate concepts and tasks back to their professors and peers in the required formats. I was a reading teacher at one point in my career. No matter how old people are, hearing the words as opposed to silently reading them helps people better process information. It can also aid your writing. An author once said that reading text aloud after writing it should be a standard practice.
“We need assistive technology and simple-to-use tools that reinforce executive functioning skills and the process of thinking and articulation.”
How does Kurzweil 3000 fit into the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approach?
One of the core aspects of UDL is that content is presented in a variety of formats. Kurzweil 3000 offers a comprehensive solution. At Chico State, they have made Kurzweil 3000 available to the entire campus. It is a system aligned with research-based learning strategies. It is not just a technology that compensates for learning and language differences; it supports learning. I talked with a political science professor at the institution who said that she was not a “tech person,” but she was able to use the system to add her voice to class notes and annotate them, as well as highlight text on a PDF for all of her students. She does not have to inundate students with photocopied, highlighted pieces of paper. She can put course content on any student’s device in an accessible format. Kurzweil 3000 can read your content back to you if you are a student writing an essay or research paper. Everything can be done in the system.
For more information, please visit kurzweiledu.com