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New teaching technique benefits disabled students


Cambrian College, through The Glenn Crombie Centre for disability services, is testing voice recognition software in a number of its programs through its Liberated Learning project.

Liberated Learning uses a wireless microphone, a computer, special software, and an editor to provide students with access to class lecture content.

A computer is set up in a classroom and as the professor talks, voice recognition software translates the dialogue, in real time, into text that is displayed to the class on a large screen.

For speech recognition to occur, the professor first creates a personal voice profile so the computer can understand what they are saying and interpret various inflections of speech.

After class, the text is edited to catch translation errors, and then the notes are made available to students through WebCT, Cambrian's online course creation, management and delivery tool.

Three professors at Cambrian College are now testing the software in their classes: baking and pastry arts professor Jean-Guy Robichaud, child and youth worker professor Jennifer Cawley-Caruso, and psychology professor Irene Nizzero.

"Acquiring equal access to lecture information has been a long-standing challenge for students with disabilities," says Susan Alcorn MacKay, director, disability services. "Through the Liberated Learning project, students can use the instantaneous display of the lecture as a reference check for their own notes and understanding. It also gives students access to both auditory and visual learning, helping them better integrate lecture content."

To bring this technology to Cambrian, the college partnered with the Atlantic Centre of Research, Access and Support for Students with Disabilities at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, who received support for the project from J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, IBM, and Aliant Telecommunications. The project was initially designed for special needs students, although some institutions that are using the software are also finding it beneficial for English-as-a-second language students and others.

Other colleges and universities involved in the project include the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia, California State University, University College of Cape Breton and Trent University.

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When the Many Hands Project gets underway this weekend in St. Catharines, it is Niagara College students will be offering their helping hands.

The annual project launched by special event management students will this year assist Bethlehem Place, a housing and support services facility, with physical renovations and site improvements.

About 125 volunteers from across the Niagara region will work on 15 separate projects for the interior and exterior, with a total project budget of $40,000.

Bethlehem Place is a non-profit community organization that consists of a 27-unit apartment complex and a housing residence. The organization provides support, services and temporary housing to victims of abuse, recovering addicts, the homeless and other situations. The centre has assisted 1,000 people since 1988, and celebrates this year its 15th anniversary.

The Many Hands Project is a hands-on component of Niagara College's special event management (post-graduate) program. Students are required to plan, develop, co-ordinate and execute a one-day, labour-intensive renovation of a community non-profit organization.

Fundraising, volunteer management, technical operations, hospitality and public relations are all left to individual committees comprised of students.

The goal is to develop community co-operation and pride, through volunteer driven projects aimed at assisting non-profit organizations in the Niagara Region.

The Many Hands Project was inspired by a similar 1997 venture in Scarborough, facilitated by the Parks and Recreation Ontario Group called One Voice. This involved a one-day renovation of a youth facility.

When developing the Special Event Management program, Niagara College found that One Voice had provided an excellent example of the principles involved in running a special event. The concept was quickly incorporated into the program's curriculum, and Many Hands Project was born.

The college outlined that Many Hands would benefit Niagara-area non-profit organizations in need of renovations to facilitate community pride and co-operation. While location would change from year to year, the concept itself will remain in tact.

In the six years since its inception, the Many Hands Project has provide more than $250,000 worth of renovations to various regional organizations.

For information on how to get involved, call 905-641-2242.


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