Some thoughts on AMIS and WordTalk
Apr 13th, 2013 by H-Blog

Unit 4 Quiz – an Audio Blog
Feb 7th, 2013 by H-Blog

Audio Blog Post – click here to listen

created using

Link to Quiz

5 minute Post Challenge – Fonts on my WordPress Blog
Nov 27th, 2012 by H-Blog

The Problem

I got a DM on Twitter from a friend of mine in the Western Isles. He had been reading some of my #itr12 posts, and wanted to draw my attention to something pretty fundamental – he could hardly read the text! He suggested that changing the font and its size might be a good idea.

That’s gotta be prety simple, right?

I said “No problem” and headed off to edit my posts. Interesting thing though, my WordPress blog was offering me very limited font choices, and no way of selecting font size. Hmmmm. What’s a chap to do?

The solution (not so simple, as it happens)

The solution involved a number of things. It involved installing the Editor FontSize, FontMeister, Space Invaders, Text Control and WP Editor plugins for my blog (not just them as it happens, I tried a few others on for size too!). Basically, these all provide some sort of formatting help, meaning I can now choose my font size, line spacing and certain other features too. But the fonts are best of all.

What’s so good about these fonts then?

With any website, it has to take a gamble as it will never know what fonts are installed on the computer that it is being displayed on. Sure, Times New Roman is likely to be available, but apart from that it’s a lottery. Obviously there are some fonts which there is more chance of a computer having than other fonts, but esentially it’s a gamble. Websites get round this by suggesting a font family, or a list of fonts to try and an order to try them in. From an accessibility point of view, this isn’t great, as you can never be sure what font your reader will be seeing.

But all that is changing. Web Fonts are OpenSource fonts which are available from the web – that means that they don’t have to be installed on a computer to be able to be displayed on that computer. Using FontMeister I added some Google Web Fonts as options to my blog, and am currently trying the Andika font to see how I get on with it. There is talk of the Open Dyslexic font being available as a web font soon too.

How’d the 5 minutes go?

Turned out to be nearer 15, but that’s still okay for a post I reckon!!!!!

Some stuff about structured documents
Nov 26th, 2012 by H-Blog

How to improve accessibility…without really trying

I had never really given much thought to the structure of my documents until I started the ITR12 course. I don’t really know why, it had just never been something that had cropped up I guess. And that’s a large part of the problem here – PR. Making documents structured isn’t difficult or time-consuming and it doesn’t need any expensive software; all it needs is an increased awareness.

So, what’s the point?

Well, there’s the obvious answer to this question, and the less obvious answer too. The obvious answer is that by making your document structured, you make it easier for screen readers to ‘understand’ your document, and as a result make it more accessible to the person using the reader, thus giving them a better chance of understanding it.  The less obvious answer is that there are benefits of structuring your document anyway – it is easier for anyone to navigate around; it can be a more dynamic document with hyperlinks to other sections; it’s portability is increased (eg for export to PDF or conversion to HTML)  and apart from anything else after an initial period, it should be quicker to create than an unstructured document.

All that glitters is not gold

The most important part of making a structured document is formatting your document properly. For the most part this means using headings to break your document into sections. “Easy,” I hear you cry, “I do that all the time anyway!!!!” But do you really? When you are putting a heading into your document, do you select font size, type heading, select heading text, Bold, Underline, return, change font size back & Un-Bold, Un-underline? Yeah, me too. So that must be good, right?

Wrong. Whilst this may look like a structured document, there is no ‘metadata’ attached to this structure to allow it to be correctly identified. What you need to do is open your word processor up and have a look for a bit of the interface that you have probably largely ignored until now – the styles section. You know the one….

style options from Word

By using the style settings to apply styles, we can create a document that is capable of providing screen reading software with the information it needs to ‘make sense’ of the document. Now, this seems very simple – and it is. After an initial period spent setting your styles up the way you want them (choice of font, font size, font style), it actually makes it quicker to format your document than marking each heading out as you need it.

That can’t be it. What else do I need to do?

Well, that’s the main thing, but there are another couple of things to bear in mind too. The first of these is remembering to add alternative text (alt text) to any images that you put into your document. This will allow screen readers to provide a description of the image for a reader who cannot see it. Care needs to be taken with the alt text –  if the filename is used as default for instance, this is likely to be something pretty meaningless and user-unfriendly, such as image (1).png. Providing a short but accurate description of the image (eg ‘style options from Word’ for the image above)  .

The same principle applies to any links you add to your text. Hyperlinking to another blogpost on this site, the address to use would be http:is much more useful// Now, if a screen reader reads that out, it isn’t going to mean much to the reader. The title of the blog post “EduBlogs Awards – My Nominations” would make a lot more sense. Adding this descriptive text to a hyperlink  can be easily achieved by typing (or cutting and pasting) the desired text into your document, selecting it and right clicking and choosing ‘edit hyperlink’.

As well as these three main principles, font size needs to be considered, and should be at least 12 points. Underlining text should be avoided, as this can make reading text more difficult, as can using block capitals. Text should not be justified, as the differences in word and letter spacing can cause problems with reading; rather it should be left-aligned. Any bulleted or numbered lists should be formatted using the relevant tools rather than numbered/bulleted by hand. Similarly, columns should be added using the correct formatting tools rather than by ‘tabbing’. For larger documents, a table of contents should be considered – this should be easy to create for a document that is properly structured!

To help you out….

If you are lucky enough to be using the 2010 version of Word, there is a built-in accessibility checker that can help you spot accessibility issues in your document. It will highlight these to you, advising how important it feels the error is and offering advice on how to fix it. Similar extensions are available for OpenOffice and LibreOffice. 

So why aren’t we all doing it? All the time?

That is a very good question. I think it is possibly a lack of education about the benefits of structured documents as well as how easy it can be to provide that structure at the time of writing. As excuses go, it’s pretty flimsy; so perhaps it’s time we all took a bit of responsibility for sharing the information with our colleagues. 

The Keyboard Shortcuts Cue-Cards (Iain Hallahan Remix)
Nov 17th, 2012 by H-Blog

As part of the Inclusive Technologies for Reading course, we were asked to come up with a remix of the keyboard shortcut cue cards we had been provided with. I grouped the shortcuts round the themes I would have put them in, as well as tweaking some definitions. I also took the opportunity to embed the cards into Slideshare, and am interested to see if the Open Dyslexic font I used displays. Have a look and see what you reckon!


Roll up, roll up – get yer top quality CPD here……..
Nov 14th, 2012 by H-Blog

As the explosion of activity on this blog recently shows quite clearly, I have been taking part in an online CPD course being run by Dyslexia Action and the RNIB. It is called Inclusive Technologies for Reading, and has been designed for teachers, parents,  support staff or pretty much anyone supporting people who have difficulties accessing text due to a print impairment. They say that it is also suitable for ICT professionals who have not had specific training in inclusive technologies.

The course is being developed for commercial purposes, so this pilot programme is a good way to get some quality training done for free. Already, I have been impressed with the delivery of the course, and the focus on free and inexpensive technologies that can really make a difference. The course was developed and is being run by Load2Learn – an online resource for downloadable curriculum materials in accessible formats- which has already been affectionately dubbed OverLoad2Learn!

But why am I telling you this now? Well, it turns out that if you are interested in taking part, it’s not to late to register. You can join until the 21st November (that’s next week!) if you are interested. Could be an ideal opportunity for established teachers looking to develop their skills, student teachers looking to widen their learning or probationary teachers looking for something a bit different for their CPD portfolio.

If you are interested, click here to register. Maybe see you online sometime!

Shortcut Shenanigans
Nov 14th, 2012 by H-Blog

The last week or so of the Inclusive Technologies for Reading course has seen me working on Structured Documents. As well as attempting a strctured blog post previously, this has also seen me creating documents with structure using Word. Now, having used Word for years, I thought I was a bit handy with the old shortcuts, a bit of a keyboard ninja. Turns out I had not a clue as to some of the keyboard-wizardry you could get up to. Have a look at the video below.


I don’t mind admitting, I was totally gobsmacked by how much I didn’t know!


Why you should be using Delicious
Nov 9th, 2012 by H-Blog




Introduced to

I have been using Delicious since my PGDE year in 2006, when I was introduced to it by David Muir during a lecture at Jordanhill (the same lecture, incidentally, where I first heard the “It’s not about the tech, it’s about the teAch” quote). Back then it was known as which proved difficult to remember sometimes, but has since come to be known (and live at) the somewhat easier I have been introduced to many, many things since then – some of them have stuck, some of them have vanished but Delicious endures, despite some (often hamfisted) rebrands, redesigns and relaunches. But why? Well quite simply, it does what it does simply, quickly, easily and well.


But what does it do?

You know that thing where you say “Oh yeah, I found a great website about that and saved it in my bookmarks….but that’s on my computer at home…” so then you spend 10 minutes looking for the site and trying to remember what it was called before giving up entirely, turning the computer off and reading a newspaper instead? And then you sit simmering, thinking “If only I could get to my favourites on every computer….” Well that’s where Delicious grew from, and that was its basic functionality. Find website, bookmark website on Delicious, access bookmark from any internet-access computer (yes, back then there were some computers that weren’t!!!). It was liberating, like being able to carry your computer about in the palm of your hand, just before you could carry…. well, you get the point…..


That’s a lot of links

Let’s call just being able to access your bookmarks from anywhere Phase 1. After a while, same as with the bookmarks on your computer, it gets to the point where there are so many that searching through the bookmarks becomes almost as much of a pain as searching on the internet itself. That’s when you need Phase 2. Delicious was the first place I saw Tags being used, and I was pretty impressed. Providing you took the time to tag a link when you saved it, it became pretty easy to find by searching the tags. What was that money website I saved with the great SMART Board game? Tags – money, smartboard, game and have a look through the handful of links you have left. Brilliant.

These are mine, I tell you, mine!!!!

Another thing I noticed about Delicious was that unlike too many educators in the world who are hoarders rather than sharers, everybody using it seemed really happy to share. They would say things like “Oh yeah, if you look on my delicious under numeracy you’ll find….” or “Check out the resources I have tagged ‘amazing'” and if you did, you could see all the goodies that they had found. Meaning you didn’t have to find them yourself. Another idea I came up with at this time was having class/school delicious accounts. These could then be tagged with teacher name, class name, subject name, topic name or even more specificaly with things like pupil initials or even ‘p7homework’. This meant that pupils and parents could have access to the most up-to-date and current set of links available which were searchable using tags. Imagine clicking a link in an email and then adding tags p7, maths, hw, JS to find the sites James Smith in p7 has to investigate for his maths homework. And if you find a new, better link in the meantime, just bookmark it, tag it and the same link he already has wil allow him to find it (unlike when you printed out that pageful of links, sent it home and found a killer website the next day….)


Web 2.0 and beyond

Of course, that all seems so old-fashioned now. But back then, even just four or five years ago, it was cutting edge. And then the social media revolution came along. Quietly at first and with little urgency, but with the promise of total devastation that the small pebbles that start an avalanche carry. First of all the bookmarklet allowed you to save a link with the press of a virtual button. Plus you were able to import favourites from your computer(s?) to Delicious.As Twitter and Facebook burgeoned, Delicious adapted too. Now if there was someone you knew using delicious, you could ‘follow’ their stream of links (allowing you to steal the good ones for yourself!). People invented ways to link their Delicious, Twitter and Facebook accounts for ease of use. I signed up to a service called packratius which harvested any tweet in my stream which had a weblink in itand tagged it ‘via: packratius’ as well as any other hashtag in the tweet. Sounded like a great idea, turned out not to be – my delicious was soon overrun with packratius tagged links, so I changed the settings to opt-in rather than opt-out saving, meaning that any tweet I favourited with a link the link would be autosaved, or any tweet I tweeted with the #pr tag would be saved too. And after some pressure from users, the option to export your links was added too.


Today’s Delicious

Nowadays Delicious doesn’t need packratius or similar to link to a Twitter account – it has the functionality built in. If you go to set up a Delicious account, you can use your Twitter account or your Facebook account as well as the traditional “sign up by email” option. Just remember to check those settings – are you going to be an opt-in saver or an opt-out saver? Delicious themselves have a bit of a how-to guide on this, and I will be trying to shoot a screencast to show these features over the weekend to add to this blog.

Visual Stress
Nov 7th, 2012 by H-Blog

Over the lst few months I have learned a lot about many things, including visual stress. Visual stress is said to possibly affect up to one in 5 of us to some degree, and can make accessing any sort of text very difficult. I gave a talk on this at TMHighland, and have produced a screencast of the talk. Click the link below to see a demo video showing some of the types of distortions that are experienced.


Visual Stress – Sample distortions

Inclusive Technologies for Reading – #ITR12
Nov 5th, 2012 by H-Blog

Some of you may have noticed that my blog posts  – which were infrequent at best – took a nose-dive into the non-existent category last year. This was due to a number of factors, starting my new job and moving house being two of the lesser ones. The main reason, as it turned out, was the very demanding but exceptionally rewarding PGCert in Dyslexia & LiteracyI undertook through Dyslexia Action. I can honestly say that it is the hardest study I have ever undertaken, far outstripping the demands of my PGDE (Primary). Now there’s a sentence I never thought I would write!!!! After such an intense year, I was looking forward to a bit of an easier year, and the chance to focus completely on my work in school.

Unsurprisingly, things didn’t work out like that!

As many of you know, I am fairly active on Twitter. As is fairly common, I saw something appearing in my stream that really caught my interest. Dyslexia Action and the RNIB were looking for volunteers to pilot an online course they had been developing called Inclusive Technologies for Reading. This course will be a commercally-offered course, and the chance to take part in such high-quality professional learning for free proved just too tempting for me and so I signed up.

The course architecture is fascinating. Having used a number of learning platforms over the years – First Class, Glow, Moodle and now Fronter amongst others – I am finding this new platform that wee bit different. From what I can gather, it has been designed specifically for the course and has a real social media type ‘feel’ about it. As a result, I am finding it far easier to navgate than I have found Glow in the past or the exceptionally-bewildering Moodle that I had to fight my way through last year. Have a look yourself.


The course content is similarly fresh. Collaborative Google Docs, Live ‘webinars’, Discussion Boards,  Link Repositories and Twitter Socials are hardly cutting edge in the tech-world, but it is refreshing to see them front and centre in a method of CPD delivery.

As it is with the web-engagement. the ITR12 course virtually forces participants to use Twitter and also to blog reflectively. This ‘compulsory’ aspect of the course will be a great device in helping other teachers to engage through such media.

The result on here, of course, wil be some semi-regular postings, as well as the creation of the #itr12 tag in my blog categories!

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