Technology Helps With Special Needs Students

Jan 31
2014

Opening Up the Classroom

This mainstreaming of assistive technologies is having a significant impact on students — and not just on those who have traditionally required accommodations, says Karen Heilbronner, director of secondary special ­education for SRVUSD. Among those who benefit most are children with learning disabilities.

“We’re no longer limited to helping one particular student with a single specialized technology,” Heilbronner says, noting that newer assistive technologies are facilitated by the district’s recent investments in upgraded wired and wireless networks and a one-to-one tablet initiative. “These tools are easily extended to any student who needs them.”

Those with communication, cognitive, reading, short-term memory or developmental issues are now using tools such as Nuance’s Dragon NaturallySpeaking, which reads text back to them; Livescribe Smartpens, which capture everything spoken in class and written by the student; and web-based tools that help students organize their thoughts and assignments.

“We can now give students who have trouble reading every word on a page an e-book reader and text-to-speech capability, and they can sit in class with headphones on, listen to the words as they’re read to them and then weigh in on core literature discussions,” Burkhardt explains. “In the past, these would have been the students in the back who wouldn’t participate, who would have been considered either the shy introvert or the behavioral problem because they weren’t able to effectively engage. These tools are really making a difference.”

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What’s Happening in 2014?

Jan 02
2014

While there were a ton of new technology developments in 2013, 2014 may set the “coolness” bar higher than before. Here’s a few things from our friends at CBS to watch for:

1. Space tourism

Virgin Galactic is scheduled to become the first private commercial “spaceliner” to blast tourists into space, with an inaugural trip in 2014 carrying its founder, Sir Richard Branson. Branson and his children, Holly and Sam, will lift off on SpaceShipTwo from the Spaceport America in New Mexico.
Beyond 2014, a handful of private companies are also racing to bring tourists to space, including the ambitious Mars One colony trip to the red planet and Space Adventures’ trip to the moon.

2. Wearable tech

Ok, Glass. Show us the future. Google is expected to ship its groundbreaking augmented-reality glasses to the public in 2014, expanding the wearable tech market.

Smartwatches like Samsung’s Galaxy Gear watch and the Pebble Smartwatch will continue to be more useful as developers create more apps for the devices. Health-tracking devices like the Nike Fuel Band, Jawbone Up and Fitbit Force will continue to drive the health technology marketplace into the mainstream.

3. Internet of things

At the 2013 IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin, technology company Philips demonstrated a concept called the HomeCooker Next that could time cooking, change temperature and stir food — using a smartphone. The Nest thermostat not only can control your home’s temperature remotely, it also learns your behavior and makes adjustments accordingly. 

The networking of our physical world will continue to boom in 2014. Connected devices are no longer just limited to smartphones and computers. Everything from door locks and home appliances to bikes and watches can now be networked.

4. Robots on the rise

Will the machines become self-aware in 2014? We certainly hope not, but advancing technology in robotics and artificial intelligence are definitely on the rise. 

Google acquired a portfolio of incredible robots with its purchase of Boston Dynamics in 2013, including the Cheetah, Petman and Atlas, making spectators wonder what the tech giant has planned for the machines.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is challenging robot-makers to address the need for rescue workers in dangerous emergency response situations. The DARPA robotics challenge is underway and will have finals happening at the end of 2014. Winners will receive a $2 million prize.

5. Machines in the sky

Keep an eye on the sky in 2014 because unmanned aerial vehicles – or drones – are about to become a big part of the airspace.

Amazon made a big splash when CEO Jeff Bezos on “60 Minutes”  revealed plans for a drone that would deliver packages in 30 minutes. But a handful of other drones garnered attention in 2013, including drones that could deliver beerl and pizza to a home in the United Kingdom.

In 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released its first annual roadmap to address concerns that are arising with the increased use of drones in American airspace, paving the way for clear regulations of the flying devices. The FAA recently announced the location of six drone test sites in the United States, setting the stage for what could be the next booming industry.

6. Bigger, smarter TVs

Just watching movies and shows on TV won’t cut the mustard in 2014. A growing market of smart TVs will continue to expand, with more households having the option to browse the Internet, launch apps and have social interactions through their TV sets.

LG is planning to release a feature that lets users communicate with smart home appliances, using a mobile messaging app called Line, at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January. Samsung’s smart TVs will soon let users use voice command and gestures to change the channel, control the volume and stop videos. The two companies are also planning to show 105 inch curved  4KTV’s at CES.  Samsung has already begun selling a 110-inch TV in South Korea for a whopping $150,000.

7. 3D printed everything 

Need a new iPhone case? There’s a printer for that. The future of 3D printing  is bright and may hit the mainstream soon. According to growth projections by IDC, 3D printers units will have a compound growth rate of 59 percent and revenue growing by 29 percent from 2012 to 2017.

Hobbyists aren’t the only ones that have use for 3D printers – the medical, aerospace and automotive industries are also using 3D printers.

8. Multi-screen world

Spoiler alert: Live-tweeting TV shows is now a thing. As more mobile devices hit the market in 2014, so will more opportunities for a second-screen experience.

More TV programming will include hashtags to continue the conversation online, during breaks or after shows air. Apps like Zeebox notify users when a program is about to air, shows trending conversations online and highlights related content.

9. The fight for privacy

Privacy became a buzzword in summer of 2013, with the details of the National Security Agency’s surveillance program coming to light through leaked documents by former contractor Edward Snowden. 

According to a July 2013 Pew Research survey, 86 percent of Internet users have taken steps to protect their digital footprint by using methods like encrypting their email or clearing cookies.

Privacy advocates may want to keep their eyes on several cases filed against the U.S. government in 2013 that are still pending. NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander will retire in 2014, which could spark a new round of conversations about privacy.

10. Smartphone market continues to grow

Not everyone has a smartphone, but that will eventually change. One prediction by Credit Suisse says that over 1 billion smarthphones will sell worldwide in 2014, getting a boost from demand in China. According to IDC, smartphone shipments in China’s growing market are estimated to hit 450 million in 2014 – compared to an estimated 360 million in 2013.

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Trouble Adjusting to Windows 8?

Nov 27
2013

If you’re having trouble adjusting to the new windows OS, you’re not alone. People seem to be struggling with the new app based functionality. Don’t get frustrated, take your time and once you get to know it you’ll find that it’s very easy to use.  With Microsoft releasing an update, version 8.1, they have made the transition easier to handle. Here are a few ways to help you along the way.

MAKE IT PERSONAL

When you first boot up Windows 8.1, you won’t notice a huge difference between the latest update and Windows 8. You still get the tile-based Start screen, but it’s a lot more customization based than the previous version.

RETURN OF THE START BUTTON

One of the more welcome features is the return of the Start button.

When you switch to desktop mode, you’ll find it in the bottom-left-hand corner, but it doesn’t function in exactly the same way as before. Tapping or clicking will simply return you to the modern tile-based Start screen, rather than launching the traditional Start menu.

CHANGING DEFAULT APPS

Naturally, Microsoft would love for you to use its native apps (Internet Explorer, Xbox Music, and so forth) for all your tasks, but if you have a preference for a certain Web browser, email client or mapping app, Windows 8.1 will allow you to set them as your default.

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Is Your Computer Properly Protected?

Oct 31
2013

On average, about a handful out of the customers that call into our tech support hotline during the week, have a computer virus. Proper virus, malware and spyware protection is vital to insure the safety and health of your computer. If you’re not protected you are putting your personal information such as online banking information, passwords, emails, photographs and any other document stored, at risk of being hacked. Most of us have some form of virus protection software  installed on our computers, however, not everyone does. Furthermore, not everyone utilizes the software properly, either. 

In order for your software to be effective, it has to be up to date. Most programs offer automatic updating but in most cases it’s an option and you have to set it up to pull updates on it’s own. No worries, this is not hard by any stretch of the imagination and most likely will be presented in the initial setup but always make sure you check auto updates. Also, proper use is important to think about. Regularly scanning your computer can greatly increase the effectiveness of the software  as well as the overall performance of your computer. Most programs allow you to schedule auto scans but, again, you have to set that up on your own. Once a week is usually sufficient and you can schedule it, in most cases, at a specific time of your choosing. 

What kind should you use? Well, in the end, that call is up to you. There are some pretty pricey options and there are some not so expensive options. Anti-Virus software is one of those things in which the most expensive doesn’t necessarily mean the best protection. There are many cheaper, more affordable versions that offer basically the same protection but may not have all the extra features such as smartphone protection. From my personal experience, Webroot has a good basic product for less than $50 which I’ve used in the past. Also, for good protection at no cost, AVG provides a free version of their anti-virus software that covers you in every category you’d need to be covered. 

Ultimately, it’s up to you to be vigilant in protecting yourself from online threats. Going without any virus protection should not be an option. With the growing number of hackers and groups that are around for the sole purpose of making others miserable online, it’s just not responsible to ignore online safety. If you ever have any questions regarding your virus protection software or are looking for a little guidance, feel free to gives us a shout.

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Technology is Booming in St. Louis

Sep 30
2013

St. Louis has seen the biggest year-over-year growth in technology jobs and according to Dice.com, ranks as the fastest-growing city for technology jobs in the country. About 5 years ago, St. Louis set out to attract companies with our inexpensive (that’s in the eye of the beholder) utilities and excellent IT infrastructure, particularly our fiber network. Fortune magazine indicated we saw a one year growth of 25% in IT jobs in 2012 as well as a 13% rise in salaries in this sector. A top executive at Digital Realty Trust, an IT real estate company in San Francisco, was quoted as saying, “St. Louis is a very important market for us because it is such a desirable location for data centers.” To say that this development is encouraging for our region would be an understatement. 

With the big boys like Monsanto making a big time financial commitment to the St. Louis area by hiring 675 people and making a $400 million investment to upgrade it’s Chesterfield research facility, it signals great things for the city of St. Louis. With the rising wages and the amount of new jobs this boom is creating, the local economy has improved and figures to keep improving in years to come. One reason for this is due to the region’s lower cost of living. This attracts smart younger people with good jobs who are flocking to downtown to live among the hustle and bustle. With that comes development and re-development. According to Mayor Francis Slay, the city of St. Louis has seen over 130 new restaurants and retail stores open  since the boom first started. 

What does this mean for the IT consumers? Well, first and foremost, you’re going to get the best quality service and experts the country has to offer. With new businesses forming seemingly every day here, competition goes up and firms are forced to maintain higher standards of service and talent. The higher level of competition should also drive prices down so the budget will become a little more flexible. Overall, this has been great for all of St. Louis and the surrounding suburbs. Whether directly or indirectly we are all impacted by this in a positive way. The addition of an ultra-modern high-tech economy has breathed new life into a city that has long been an economic powerhouse. 

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