Assistive Technology in Education/iPod
iPod as an Educational Tool
The first iPod was launched on October 23, 2001 by Apple Inc. as a portable media player. Since the release of the first iPod there have been eighteen different models manufactured in five different styles including: iPod Classic, iPod Mini, iPod Nano, iPod Shuffle, and iPod Touch (iPod History, 2009).  The iPod has become a popular technology device among students of all ages in recent years. Students primarily use the iPod for access to digital media such as music, videos, and photos.
Since the release of the first iPod in 2001, the device has become a presence in the classroom as teachers discover its many educational uses. Recent applications have improved use of the iPod for educational purposes. “From kindergarten to college, in applications of all kinds, what was originally designed as a mere portable music player is on its way to becoming an essential educational tool,” (Blaisdell, 2006). Part of the attraction of the iPod as an educational device is the fact that the iPod contains easily accessible audio and visual content in an attractive and conveniently sized package. Recent iPod models have become progressively more versatile and the availability of educational content is growing exponentially.
Universities across the United States have also recognized the value of the iPod as an educational tool with college students when they began issuing free iPods to incoming freshmen (Read, 2005). Duke University was one of the first higher education institutions to distribute iPods to freshmen in 2004, (Dean, 2004).
Another important development for educational use was the implementation of iTunes University. iTunes University was launched on May 30, 2007 and has over 175,000 free educational audio and video files available (Apple, 2009). iTunes University, which is accessible through the iTunes Store, includes items such as lectures, podcasts, lessons, videos, and audio books that can be downloaded at no cost. iTunes University is possibly the world’s greatest collection of free educational media available to students, teachers, and lifelong learners.
iPod Touch as an Assistive Technology Device
The iPod Touch was first released on September 5, 2007 (iPod History, 2009). Apple improved this model a year later by adding external volume controls and built-in microphone support. The second generation iPod touch was launched on September 9, 2008 (iPod History, 2009). A built-in speaker on the second generation Touch adds the option for the iPod to be used as a recording device. Downloading an application such as iTalk by Griffin Technology (Griffin Technology iTalk, 2009). can turn an iPod Touch into a high quality recording device.
The development of the iPod Touch with features such as wireless internet access (Wi-Fi), built-in microphone support, and downloadable applications have significantly increased the applicability for use in the classroom. Apple’s iTunes store offers a wide range of educational applications available for use on the iPod touch. Applications in various subject areas exist for students ranging in age from preschool through college. This newest addition to the iPod family contains many features that can potentially be used as an assistive technology device. The information presented here is not intended to describe all of the assistive technology uses of the iPod Touch. The information that follows is an overview of potential applications for students with a variety of disabilities. This information can be used by parents, teachers, and therapists to examine possible resources that may improve student success in the classroom.
The iPod Touch is a device that is being used more frequently by individuals with visual impairments due to the availability of new applications. Several of these tools are available to users of both Macintosh and PC computers, and they can be downloaded directly from the iTunes store. Applications are accessible by the user almost immediately after the download process has been completed.
One of the applications that is most used by visually impaired users is the free audio book application, Stanza (Lexcycle, 2009). Stanza allows individuals to customize the view, which provides visually impaired users with the opportunity to increase the readability of text. Background and text colors can be changed to make text easier to see. In addition, font size, line spacing, and hyphenation can be adjusted making this application a valuable tool for visually impaired students. According to Dell, Newton, and Petroff (2008) anecdotal evidence suggests that if given a choice, teenagers would prefer to read a book on an iPod, rather than a ‘special’ device. This suggests that Stanza would be a valuable application for use by students who need an alternative to reading traditional books.
Another tool that makes the iPod Touch more accessible for visually impaired users is iTalk by Griffin Technology (Griffin Technology iTalk, 2009). This application works with the built-in microphone to allow students to record their own voice. Students can use this feature to record notes which can be listened to at a later time. This feature is a valuable tool for completing assignments in an alternate way.
Although the iPod Touch lacks Voice Over, an application that reads text from an iPhone for users, there is an application that can be purchased for the iPod Touch, called Read2Me. This application gives users the ability to listen to e-text files read aloud, using text-to-speech technology. Read2Me (Fergus, 2009) was developed by Retinal Media, and is the first and only application that allows speech synthesis. Speech synthesis is the artificial production of human speech. This feature provides the user with a human sounding voice. Read2Me is an application that provides users with the ability to change .txt files into spoken text. This application can quickly access sites like the Gutenberg Project (Project Gutenberg, 2009), which is a large collection of free electronic books, or eBooks. Accessing Project Gutenberg with the iPod Touch enables users to download a variety of electronic books that are compatible with Read2Me.
Students with hearing impairments can also benefit from using the iPod Touch in the classroom. One of the most beneficial applications is SoundAMP (Broida, 2009). This application turns an iPod Touch into a hearing aid for individuals who have some hearing capabilities. With the built-in microphone, SoundAMP captures audio input and allows the user to adjust volume and tone to improve any hearing experience. There is also a ‘repeat’ feature that replays the conversation over if needed.
Students with severe impairments may benefit from the use of applications that teach sign language. iSign is an animated phrase book of 800 American Sign Language gestures (iSign, 2009). Each of the gestures is modeled with a 3D character and is completely animated. This application is a beneficial tutorial and reference program that can help students learn to sign.
E.S.L. Learners/Early Childhood
Students who are learning to speak English can benefit from use of the iPod Touch in the classroom. Several applications have been proven to be a valuable tool for language acquisition (Patten & Craig, 2007). Studies conducted by Patten and Craig (2007)  found that writing skills, vocabulary development, and comprehension skills improved as a result of the use if the iPod in the classroom.
For students learning to speak English as a Second Language, language learning software can be used in the classroom. Byki (2009) is an application that teaches users over one thousand words and phrases using a three step process. The application contains native speaker sound, quizzes, and a search feature. Byki teaches students to recognize both the written and the spoken word. Other applications available for language acquisition include Conversation English, English Dictionaries, and Spanish/English Translation Dictionaries.
In addition to the many applications that can be useful for students learning English, students in early childhood classrooms can benefit from the iPod Touch as well. Flash card applications are available on iTunes that would be beneficial for students of all ages. Young students can learn the alphabet using Toddler ABCs Alphabet Flash Cards (AppBeacon, 2008). This application teaches the alphabet using pictures and voice prompts. Another useful application is called Letter Tracer. (AppShopper, 2008). Letter Tracer helps students learn to write number and letter shapes through tracing or free-form writing. In this application, students write letters directly on the touch screen. Additional applications can be found by conducting a search in the iTunes Store.
One example of iPod Touch use in an early childhood setting is taking place in the Mansfield ISD, in Texas. The district spent over $14,000 to purchase 63 units which are being used in PreK classrooms. Every PreK classroom in the district has received three iPods which are being used in a technology center. Teachers are using a variety of applications on the iPod Touch as an instructional tool with young learners. Click the link below to see how students are using the iPod Touch in the Mansfield ISD.
Other Learning Disabilities
A few other tools and applications are available for the iPod Touch that will help students with other disabilities not listed above. Three particular items deserve to be mentioned as possible accommodations for students with other disabilities.
For students who have physical impairments such as cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, or hand/arm injuries, using the iPod Touch may be difficult. The iPod Touch senses electrical impulses emitted by fingertips. It is not possible to use a pencil or a typical stylus on the iPod Touch. For those individuals who have limited mobility Ten One Design offers the Pogo Stylus (MacBlogz, 2008). This tool simulates a fingertip and uses a soft fabric end to easily navigate the touch screen interface. The Pogo Stylus also includes a clip designed to keep the stylus with the iPod.
Students with reading disabilities often need to have tests read aloud. Teachers have begun to use iPods as a testing tool. Tests questions are scanned and teachers record their voices reading the test questions and answer choices. Instead of being removed from the classroom to have a test read aloud, students are able to stay in their classroom to take the test. The use of headphones provides students with the opportunity to privately listen to test questions. This form of oral support does not disturb other students, and they are able to pause or repeat test questions as needed. Click the link below to see how iPods are being used as a testing device.
Many students with learning disabilities need extra help studying for tests. Using presentation software, such as Powerpoint, along with the iPod photo features, teachers can create attractive flash cards that can be reviewed and studied on an iPod Touch (Coley, 2009). Audio support can be added if desired. Brent Coley is a teacher in California who has created an extensive website explaining the use of Flash Cards on an iPod. For more information visit the iPod flashcards section of Mr. Coley’s website for an in-depth look at how to create and sync flash cards to an iPod.
The iPod Touch is a technology device that has many uses for people of all ages. The possibilities for customizing the device to meet the needs of any user are endless. As the number of applications that can be downloaded continues to grow exponentially, there are hundreds of applications can be used in the classroom. The release of the second generation iPod Touch in September of 2008 has resulted in expanding the potential use of the item as an assistive technology device. Although there are other devices available for students with disabilities, the iPod Touch has the potential to become the preferred device based on its versatility and portability.
Teachers, parents, and therapists are encouraged to carefully analyze any assistive technology device before selecting the best choice for a student. It is critical to recognize that the section and design of any assistive technology device must reflect a collaborative team approach and must include the student and people who are familiar with the student, (Dell et al., 2008). The needs of each student are different, and must be carefully considered before choosing and implementing any assistive technology device.
More information about the iPod touch can be accessed at http://www.apple.com/ipodtouch/.
Watch a guided tour of the iPod touch by clicking this link http://www.apple.com/ipodtouch/guidedtour/.
Individuals wishing to download applications for the iPod touch must have the latest version of iTunes installed on their computer. Click http://www.apple.com/itunes/download/ to download iTunes.
For more information about iTunes click http://www.apple.com/itunes/whatsnew/.
- The complete history of the iPod: 2001 to present. Accessed July 13, 2009 at http://www.ipodhistory.com/.
- Blaisdell, M. (2006). In iPod we trust. T.H.E. Journal, 33(8), 30-36.
- Read, B. (2005). Seriously, iPods are educational. Chronicle of Higher Education, 51(28), A30-A32.
- Dean, K. (2004). Duke gives iPods to freshmen. Accessed July 13, 2009 at http://www.wired.com/entertainment/music/news/2004/07/64282.
- Apple, 2009. Mobile learning. Accessed July 13, 2009 at http://en.wikibooks.org/w/index.php?title=Assistive_Technology_in_Education/iPod&action=edit§ion=2.
- Griffin technology: iTalk - A recording app for your iPhone or 2nd gen iPod Touch. Accessed July 13, 2009 at http://www.griffintechnology.com/products/italk.
- Stanza: A revolution in reading. Accessed July 13, 2009 at http://www.lexcycle.com/.
- Dell, A.G., Newton, D.A., & Petroff, J.G. (2008). Assistive technology in the classroom: Enhancing the school experiences of students with disabilities. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall.
- Fergus, B. (2009). Let your iPhone read to you with Read2Me. The iPod Observer. Accessed July 13, 2009 at http://www.ipodobserver.com/ipo/article/let_your_iphone_read_to_you_with_read_2_me/.
- Project Gutenberg. (2009). Main page - Gutenberg. Accessed July 13, 2009 at http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Main_Page.
- Broida, R. (2009). SoundAMP turns an iPhone into a hearing aid. Accessed July 13, 2009 at http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-19512_7-10281062-233.html.
- iSign. (2009) Accessed July 13, 2009 at http://idev2.com/iSign/iSign.html.
- Patten, K.B., & Craig, D.V. (2007). iPods and English-language learners: A great combination. Teacher Librarian, 34(5), 40-44.
- Transparent Language. (2009) Byki for iPhone. Accessed July 13, 2009 at http://www.byki.com/iphone/iphone.html.
- AppBeacon. 2008. Toddler ABCs preschool alphabet flash cards. Accessed July 13, 2009 at http://appbeacon.com/apps/039070/toddler-abcs-preschool-alphabet-flash-cards.
- AppShopper. (2008) Letter tracer writing practice. Accessed July 13, 2009 at http://appshopper.com/education/letter-tracer-writing-practice.
- MacBlogz. (2008). Pogo stylus provides universal touch screen use. Accessed on July 13, 2009 at http://www.macblogz.com/2008/06/24/pogo-stylus-provides-universal-touch-screen-use/.
- Coley, B. (2009). iPod flash cards. Accessed on July 13, 2009 at http://www.mrcoley.com/flashcards/index.htm.