Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Does technology inhibit our engagement with children?

I had an interesting online discussion with a colleague as to whether or not technology detracts from or enhances communication. She wrote, "...communication is a relational activity, it's all about relationships. Should we be investing so much energy on encouraging children to engage maybe more with technology than they do with people? ... Do we really need all of the apps in order to engage children with spoken communication or do we need to get back to the real function of speech and language which is to connect people with people?"

As a speech path, I fully agree, to a point. But does technology disengage children from human interaction? Does our enthusiasm for the iPad, and using it in therapy, have the potential for reducing the child's interpersonal relationship with us and others? I believe the answer is that it depends on how we use technology.

Technology is a tool like any other, but with expanded possibilities. There are apps available that can be used as a starting point for conversation. New app innovation holds the possibility of animating the standard pictures we have been using in therapy for years. I find it hard to understand why that is a negative. As with all materials available to us, it all depends on how we put them to use. Letters replaced human messengers, books replaced human storytellers, radio and television took their place alongside live entertainment. Today's technology is another medium of interaction on this continuum.

Another colleague offered this anecdote. "At the end of school last year, I grouped 2 preschoolers who I had been seeing separately and at the end, we used the ipad for some free time. Boy, was I surprised at the amount of spontaneous conversation between the 2 boys! They shared their favorite app, described how to play it, asked questions about the other boy's app, and made helpful suggestions. I hadn't gotten such spontaneous language from the one student for over a year of therapy!!"

Monday, September 19, 2011

How effective is the iPad as a therapy tool?

Children love the iPad and are masters at knowing what to touch, how to touch, move, or activate whatever is on the screen. Their abilities with the iPad and other technologies does not necessarily translate into a learning experience. Therein lies the problem. I have observed children as they use technology and have noticed that, left alone with the iPad/computer, it holds their interest as long as the games are fun without being challenging. If our work with children involves challenging them to go the next step, how do we turn the iPad into an effective learning tool?

Unfortunately, at this point in the evolution of apps, it is a learning tool if we sit and watch the child perform tasks using the iPad. Voice recognition capabilities are not yet developed enough to provide accurate feedback directly to the child. We are the ones who need to give the feedback. We, not the device, determine if the child correctly said a word or phrase. How about tasks involving auditory comprehension that can be tracked and scored? I have reviewed a few apps that have those capabilities. But here's the problem. Unless we sit with the child and watch how the the child responds, we have know way of knowing if the child randomly tapped a picture or if he knew the answer. Neither can the computer tell what is going on. For example, a common receptive vocabulary task is to tap the picture named. What is to stop a child from randomly tapping choices? If the task is challenging, the child can rapidly tap pictures until the the screen indicates the answer is correct and the reward (smiley face, stars, etc) appears. If the reward requires too much effort, she will bore of the task and look for an app that is easier and offers more immediate gratification. 

One solution is to remain in control of how the child works. The child is carefully instructed about the task. If I see the child randomly touching, swiping or tapping, I intervene and bring the child's focus back to the task. Do I need to constantly monitor? No and yes. If I wish the child to learn from the app, I monitor. I relinquish this level of control when I use the iPad as a motivational tool. As a motivational tool, the child is allowed to select the app. He/she can even switch among apps. That is because what is important is the reward for the child after having put out effort or succeeded in whatever therapy goal we may be working on.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Animal vocab apps

I believe there are more animal apps around than any other vocab category. The good new is that most are free. But they are not all equal; some are great and some are not worth downloading even for free.

The Best
Mini Adventures Animals by This app is my favorite for children older than 5. The app presents photographs of a large variety of tame and wild animals. Each animal is clearly named when the screen is tapped. Written below each animal is its name. In the left hand corner is a video window. Tap the arrow and one can view a video of the real animal moving around and making it's animal sound. This adds a unique dimension to the app. If one selects the browse, rather than the play arrow at the start of the app, one can select an animal to view. All of the animals are grouped by alphabetically. This app is free.

ABA Flash Cards-Zoo Animals by The photographs are large and clear. The name of the animal is clearly pronounced and written above the picture. This app is free.

Animal Games by The free download allows one to open up the following pictures: birds, farm animals, large animals, mini creatures and small animals. The entire set, which includes cats, dogs, pets and things, primates, reptiles and water animals can be purchased for $.99. That's a great price for so much. The pictures are clear photographs of the real animal. Tap on the picture and the animal is named. Below each animal is it's written name.

English & Chinese Animal Flash Card by iiPeen Inc.: This is a very attractive app. The animals are creative drawings done with a bit of an Asian flair. Touch the English word on the bottom right hand corner of the page and the animal is named in English. Touch the Chinese word on the bottom left hand corner and the animal is named in Chinese. The animals are grouped in sets of 4. After the animals in a set have been named, there is a receptive quiz. An animal is named and the child needs to tap on it. Stars erupt out of the animal if it was correctly identified along with a voice praising the child's correct selection. A voice encourages the child to try again if the wrong picture was selected. There is one minor vocab misunderstanding. The picture of a cow is identified as "cattle." This app is $.99.

Peekaboo HD by Gotclues  In this app an animal hides behind a shivering bale of hay as it says it's sound. One taps on the bale of hay and the animal is revealed and named. The written name appears above the animal. The animal animations are cute and the farm background is appealing. This app is free.

Second Tier Animal Apps
The apps in this next group are fine. Would I buy them? Probably not because the free selection is better.

Peekaboo Barn  by I like the interactivity feature of this app. The child hears a sound coming from the red barn. The child taps the barn doors to reveal farm animal as it says it's animal sound. The animal is named by a child with "w" for "r." Not cute and a poor model for a child using the app. The free version of this app offers only 4 animals. The full version is $1.99.
My First Farm Animals by Polarmagic. Free app.
Animal by Baby Touch  Free app.
Bird Book by Santpal Dhillon  The free version of this app has advertisements on each page.
Preschool Photo Touch Farm Animals by This free app asks that the child touch the animal named out of 3 presented on the page.
Abby's Magic Laptop for Preschool and Toddlers Animals by 22learn, LLC Two modes, Let's Play and Let's Learn. There is an Animals app and a Zoo app. Each full, non free version, costs $1.99.

Not Recommended
Flashcards by INKids The free download allows me to open only one of the 10 games on the app and that is animals.As with most of the animal apps, each cartoon-like animal/bug is named and the written word appears under the animal. As an added feature, when one touches each letter of the written word, the narrator says each "sound." I put sound in parenthesis because the phonics are often inaccurate. For instance, for the word cheetah, instead of the correct "ch" sound, the "c" is given a "k" sound and the "h" is given an "h" sound. Vowels production is all over the map. Some vowels are produced in long vowel fashion and others as short vowels, regardless of how the vowel is said in the word. This app is $3.99 for 10 games.
Animals Learning Disc HD  and Animals Learning Tool Game HD by Brain Counts The animal pictures are small and cartoonish. Some might be difficult for a young child to recognize. Each app is $.99.
Animal School by Amitech The narrator names each animal at warp speech and his voice is unpleasant. This is a do not bother to download, even if it is free app that I will delete from my iPad once I have published this post.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

This app is now one of my favorites

The other day Grasshopper Apps sent me an email letting me know that it's I Like Books app is free to download for a short period of time. Of course, I immediately downloaded it.

The app contains 9 books all titled I Like something (one is I Love). The I Like subjects are animals. boats, cats, colors, dogs, drawing, fall, Grandma and I Love Dad. Each book allows the user to select either being read to or to read on one's own. With either selection one turns the page either forward or backward by swiping the page or tapping on the arrow. A third option is Autoplay, whereby the books is automatically read to the child and the pages turn without clicking on the forward arrow or swiping the page. The Settings option allow for sound, swipe, word highlights, story highlights, and picture highlights to be turned on or off. One can also customize the story by recording one's own storyline or changing the text. This option is incredible because it allows the speech path to change the story to reflect a specific goal. For instance, if the speech path would like the focus to be on the pronoun "he" rather than the "I" in the story, she can record and/or type in what she would like the storyline to emphasize. Customization can be erased and a new version made.

The stories are represented by photographs with clear and appealing images. Most of the pages are divided in two, each with its own storyline. The pictures complement on another. Some offer contrasting concepts others expand on a concept and some are a starting point for discussion of the two pictures. The vocabulary in the pictures is extensive without being overwhelming. I can see this app being used to target pronouns, verbs, opposites, similarities, vocabulary, descriptions (color, emotions, size and more), location, associations, reading, writing, and spelling. The customization feature allows a child to record or type her version of the story as well. I am impressed with this app's versatility. It has the "wow" factor.

Suggested uses: pronouns, verbs, opposites, similarities, vocabulary, descriptions (color, emotions, size and more), location, associations, reading, writing, and spelling.
Ages: 2-7 years
Cost:  free  for a limited time. I don't know what the price of this app will be but most Grasshopper apps are $.99.
Rating: +++++