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Do It Yourself

The column that looks at the best - and worst - in computers. Anne Caven, special needs co-ordinator at st cuthbert with St Matthias Primary, London, picks her favourite for Chris Abbott. WHICH IT PRODUCT - SOFTWAREOR HARDWARE - MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE?

The Concept Keyboard and the software that lets me design overlays for it so we don't have to use a Qwerty keyboard to control the computer.

HOW ?

I've developed a portfolio of overlays, most of them drawn and designed by my pupils. I did make my own version of some of the overlays, but pupils prefer using the ones that contain drawings by children.

WHAT DO YOU LIKE OR DISLIKE ABOUT IT?

It lets me plan activities which are exactly right for our children. The reaction from pupils is enthusiastic; even one particularly unmotivated pupil surprised me one day by pointing to the keyboard and saying "Can you make something for that plastic thing in the corner?" I don't like the commercially-produced overlays that are available; since I first used an overlay keyboard, I've either made my own overlays or persuaded the children to design them.

WHEN DID YOU START USING IT?

I first came across overlay keyboards in my previous post in Oxfordshire. It was in 1991 and we used Oxfordshire Write and ILECC Concept. I made my first overlay then and it was so successful; there was total enthusiasm from the children when I took it back to the school.

WHO DECIDED TO BUY IT, AND WERE YOU INVOLVED IN THE CHOICE?

I was teaching four and five-year-olds at the time, so I needed something which could help to meet that wide range of learning needs. I persuaded the school to buy a Concept Keyboard after I went on the course.

HOW DOES IT COMPARE WITH OTHER WAYS OF TACKLING THE SAME TASKS?

You can do things with a Concept Keyboard which would be difficult to do in any other way.

HOW DO YOU THINK IT COULD BE IMPROVED?

I'm keen to continue to develop the overlays, and I'm now trying to add self-assessment. We have added smiley faces to the overlay, but it would be good if they also came up on the screen.

IF YOU HAD MORE FUNDING, WHAT WOULD YOU INVEST IN?

I would really like to add speech to my overlays, so that pupils hear a response as well as seeing one on the screen. Of course, for that to work I need to get access to a computer with a sound card.

* Overlay keyboards cost around Pounds 100. One supplier is: Concept Keyboard Company, Moorside Road, Winnall Industrial Estate, Winchester, Hampshire SO23 7RX. Tel: 01962 843322 * If you have an information technology product that has made an important difference to your life - whether you like it or absolutely hate it - contact the MultimediaIT editor, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY

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