Using Assistive Technology in Writing Centers

Whenever you’re writing or collaborating with someone, you probably have a favorite go-to tactic to brainstorm or write. However, as tutors, we should consider going outside of our comfort zones and attempt to use tools we are not familiar with and see if they work better.

In last autumn’s WRD-582: Writing Center Theory & Pedagogy course, I did my class project on assistive technology (AT) used in writing centers. I believe AT consists of tools that are about enhancing individuals’ skills. As of today, AT isn’t really used in writing centers to its full potential, and I hope that going over my project will help you see that assistive technology has the potential to help writers in new ways.

After a lot of research, I found that AT has a few benefits. For my project, I focused on a study by Raskind and Higgins who studied a group comprised of students with learning disabilities who used text-to-speech software. Their conclusions were that AT increased proofreading efficiency; however, human readers did better for finding mechanical errors, which may be due to the tones that humans supply while reading aloud. Despite this, AT always did better than no assistance. Now, these issues are things that all writers struggle with (proofreading, catching errors, etc.)—it isn’t unique because the people in this study had learning disabilities. Therefore, don’t you think at least recommending AT is worth it?

In the second and third years of the study, Raskind and Higgins found that the students’ confidence greatly increased and they became more independent after using AT. The students became more active in the learning process and assumed the role of helping peers more than being the ones that were helped. This study, and others like it, proves that writers can improve their writing skills and ultimately gain confidence as writers by using assistive technology.

Despite primarily focusing on text-to-speech software for my research, I thought using brainstorming/outlining software or tools, like sticky notes and colored pens, and text-to-speech software, would be best to use in tutorials. These tools might work best because they cover a variety of preferred learning styles. Ultimately, AT is about helping writers become better writers, and tutors need to sometimes approach tutorials with new ideas to make that happen. So, how would you (or do you!) incorporate AT in appointments?

Raskind, Marshall H., and Eleanor L. Higgins. “Assistive Technology for Postsecondary Students with Learning Disabilities: An Overview.” Journal of Learning Disabilities 31.1 (1998): 27-40. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 10 Oct. 2014.

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Shelley M. says:

    The idea of using text-to-speech software and its connection to writer independence is very interesting to me. I have always encouraged writers to read their essays aloud since it is a method I use myself. It is easier to catch mistakes when you read your own work aloud, but listening to another source speak your words most likely would make me and other writers be more critical of their work and how they edit.
    While I wouldn’t know how to incorporate such AT to a face-to-face appointment, I think it would be helpful to suggest using it in written feedback or online real-time appointments. It would make the next-steps in the appointment more helpful and concrete while letting the writer maintain their own agency.

    • Maggie C. says:

      Hey Shelley,

      I thought you hit on some wonderful ideas. In my research paper, I don’t recommend using text-to-speech software in face-to-face appointments because of agency and noise contamination. I agree with you that recommending text-to-speech and speech-to-text software is a better idea.

      And I think you should start small when incorporating AT! The simplest (and arguably the most fun) AT is colored pens. There are different ways to approaching using colors, but I have used colors to demonstrate different issues, e.g. green is for organization, blue is for clarity, and orange is for audience.