Friday, December 30, 2011

App Development Update

I recently asked to be assigned a new project manager.

I was becoming increasingly frustrated with the project manager. I found her emails to me to be patronizing and contentless. On the two occasions we met, she was late, first 10 minutes then 20 minutes. During the second meeting it seemed that I had waited 20 minutes so that she could get up to speed on where the project stood.  Mid-December I called her to find out if the company would be open during the last two weeks of the month so that I would know if my project would be on hold until everyone returned. She said that people would take a day or two off but that my project would not be delayed. She said that I will be pleased with the progress. Not having heard from her, I called again on Dec.21 to find out about the status of the project. The receptionist said that my project manager would be out for the week. I had been considering requesting a new project manager and decided that the time had come. I called Earl and told him about my frustrations.

This afternoon I met with Earl, the head of animations and my new project manager. It turns out that the animation team had a number of questions about the script as well as changes they wished to propose. Some of the actions in the script were too difficult or not doable. The designers also felt that the script was boring because it was repetitive. I appreciated the feedback. I explained my reasons for the writing the script the way I had. We talked about their ideas. Earl proposed that another meeting take place once the animators had a chance to show me their ideas. I should hear back from the team within 2 weeks.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Apps for Auditory Comprehension

Patti McAleer Hamaguchi, M.A., CCC-SLP is on the right track with her three apps: Fun with Directions, First Phrases and Picture the Sentence. The reason that she is on the right track is because these apps target specific aspects of language, the specific language targets are clear, they utilize the animation and interactive qualities of the iPad, are reasonably priced, and avoid the problems inherent in speech recognition targeted apps. I like the clear and simple pictures. The apps offer primarily receptive language tasks with some opportunities for expressive language during the phrase repetition, record and playback components. It is clear that considerable time and thought has gone into the development of the apps.

Of the three apps my favorite is Fun with Directions. This app offers three levels: easy, intermediate, and advanced. This app allows the speech pathologist to work on directions in a systematic manner without the preparation and presentation I have always found to be tedious. The fun animation and interactive components will certainly make this app appealing to children. At the easy level, one simple direction is such as "Close the gate" is given. The intermediate level increases the complexity by including colors or an additional descriptive element such as bottom, middle, top, close, erase, open, push or touch. At the advanced level, the length of the direction is the longest and most complex adding the concepts left/right, size, more adjectives, and/or a second step. At each level there are different concepts one can access by tapping on the New Concept button at the top of the screen. At the bottom of the screen for each level are two buttons: New Direction advances to the next screen, and Hear Again repeats the direction. The Settings screen allows one to turn text on for readers, turn voice commands off, have concepts presented randomly or select the concept on which one wishes the app to focus. Random appearances by Superstar Directions (this can be turned off in Settings)  is a combination of understanding concepts and directions and sentence repetition tasks. The child listens to a direction. After the child follows through on the direction, a screen with a microphone appears. The child is asked to repeat and record the direction by pressing the record button. After the recording is completed, a new screen appears that allows the child to listen to his recording and compare it with the narrator's instruction.

First Phrases focuses on simple grammatical structures presented in command form such as, "Pour the juice." When the child taps anywhere on the screen (Easy Level), or the pictoral/word representations, the narrator verbalizes each part of speech as it is tapped such as, "Pour," "The trash" in the 2 part verb + the object setting, or "Pour," "the," "Juice" in the 3 part verb+the+object choice. Once each part of speech has been tapped, the narrator answers the command by saying, "Sure, I'll pour the juice." The screen automatically moves to an animated demonstration of the command being carried out. If the record option has been selected a new screen appears for the child to record her repetition of the narrated command and compare it to the narration. This app also offers one the option to focus on specific verbs among the 29 offered rather than have them presented randomly. Challenge Play is another option available in this app. In Challenge Play, the child needs to drag the word/picture part of the phrase to the correct box above, in the correct order.

The information portion of Picture the Sentence states that the app targets auditory comprehension and conceptualization of basic English sentences. After reviewing the app, I think it is as much an app for sentence recall and repetition. In this app, the child to listens to a sentence and then selects the picture that goes with the sentence. The app presents the task in two steps. First, the sentence is narrated while a blank screen flashes pictures representing each part of speech. For instance, for the sentence, "She is eating a cookie in a car," the following pictures flash, one at a time, to represent the parts of the sentence: Girl's face (she),  the girl eating a cookie (is eating), cookie , a cage with a ball inside (in), car. Then the screen automatically advances to show five pictures. The child needs to drag the picture, that best represents the sentence heard, to the empty frame above. There are different levels of play based on length of sentence and complexity. The simplest level is subject +verb followed by subject +verb+object. The next level up is subject+verb+prepositional phrase. The most challenging level is subject+verb+object+ prepositional phrase. One can also opt for a random selection of target sentences. In addition to selecting the challenge to the student based on sentence length, one can further increase or decrease the wait time between the narration and the selections and change from colored drawings to stick figures or no pictures with the narration. Additionally, one can select to have the subject presented as either a  pronoun, noun, or mixed. There is a cute reward feature built into this app called Pick-A-Door that one can select to appear after 3, 5, or 10 responses. A screen appears with 8 brightly colored doors. The child taps on each door until he finds the door that has the animal.

The three apps allow for the individual settings of 15 children to be stored. There is no scoring feature. The reasons for this, according to Ms. Hamaguchi, are, "...the touch and drag is not a reliable way to acquire assessment data due to the fact that objects are accidentally touched, dropped when dragged, etc. In addition, we are trying to keep the cost of the apps down, and adding a data collection feature would drive up the price and also add to the memory load."

Ages: 3-5; Fun with Directions can be used with aphasic adults.
Ratings: Fun with Directions +++++; First Phrases +++, Picture the Sentence ++++
Developer's website:
Cost: $9.99 for the full version, $.99 for the Lite version (the Lite Version is free during the month of December).

Monday, December 12, 2011

App Developement Update

I'm happy to report that the illustrations for the two main characters are completed. My next job was to refine the script, which I did. Did you know that a script needs to be written? I didn't until I started this project. Fortunately, I had already written a script a couple of years ago for what was to be another Help Me Talk Right book. I got sidetracked and then along came the iPad. I realized that the script could be the starting point for an app.

Stay tuned for the next step in the process.