Welcome to Apps for college / university students with learning disabilities, Part 9 of “There’s A Special App For That” series on iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad apps for students with special needs. Have a look at our others in the series:
- There’s a special app for that – Part 2 UPDATE: 6 apps to create social stories
- There’s a special app for that – Part 1 UPDATE: 9 MORE apps to improve organizational skills for students with learning disabilities
- There’s a special app for that – Part 11: Creative apps for digital storytelling
- There’s a special app for that – Part 10: Apps for behavior management and intervention
- There’s a special app for that – Part 9: Apps for college/university students with learning disabilities
- There’s a special app for that – Part 8: Apps that support the development of autonomy and independence
- There’s a special app for that – Part 7: Apps that support literacy instruction
- There’s a special app for that – Part 6: 3 Methods of Using Augmentative Communication Apps To Support Different Languages
- There’s a special app for that – Part 5: 5 Mind Mapping Apps for Students with Learning Disabilities
- There’s a special app for that – Part 4: 16 Apps for Elementary Students with Non-Verbal Learning Disability
- There’s a special app for that – Part 3: 5 Apps that develop fine motor skills
- There’s a special app for that – Part 2: 5 (+1) Apps to develop social skills for students with special needs
- There’s a special app for that – Part 1: 5 Apps to improve organizational skills for students with learning disabilities
This past school year we had many requests for information and training in assistive technologies geared towards supporting college and university students with learning disabilities. Since we are about a month away from back-to-school, we wanted to publish a post that could assist college and university students with special needs in their planning for the new academic year.
The students that we consult with are impressive-and so are the individuals and student centres that support them. These are students who are successful due to the fact that they have a strong awareness and knowledge of the adaptations that they require in order to be successful in higher education (and in life in general). A resource guide from the HEATH Resource Center at the National Youth Transition Center advocates that awareness of strengths, advocacy skills and persistence are among the traits most needed in higher education for students with LDs. Many individuals are also successful as a direct result of the information, accommodations, resources and training that they receive through support centres at their respective colleges and universities.
Students with learning disabilities on the rise in higher education
Students with learning disabilities represent the largest group of students with disabilities in higher education settings. The number of students with learning disabilities in post-secondary education has increased over the past ten years. Some stats: one US study from the University of Washington concluded that 6% of the population in higher education has a disability. Of this number, 45% of individuals report a learning disability. In 2002, an Australian government study from “Opening all Options II” estimated that 13% of students with disabilities in Australian universities were diagnosed with a learning disability as their primary disability.
Noted in most of these studies is the fact that accommodations and services vary greatly from one educational institution to the next. One of the biggest challenges for students in their transition from high school to post-secondary settings is the fact that many students must learn to “self-identify” and ask for accommodations that they might require at the post-secondary level. They must also become more independent learners as they juggle heavier course loads and sometimes new learning strategies in the post-secondary environment.
There are many great resources out there that cover various areas for students with learning disabilities in post-secondary settings. Often, college or university support centres will also provide information on these topics. Here are a few that we have found useful for both students and those individuals that support them:
- Legislation for accommodations in post-secondary settings vary from country to country. One such example is from the US; the Learning Disabilities Association of America has a comprehensive article “Learning Disabilities and The Law: After High School: An Overview for Students” that provides an overview of learning disability and the law.
- Greatschools.org has an updated and comprehensive article on “College resources for students with LD or AD/HD.”
- The National Centre for Learning Disabilities in the US has a large section on college and work that includes information on strategies, resources and transition-planning.
- The Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) has many resources available on their site to professionals working in the area of supporting students in the college/university setting.
- Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities has a valuable article on “6 Keys to College Success.”
- In Canada, certain provinces have produced their own resources and materials for transition to a post-secondary setting-for an example see the government of Alberta’s Transition Planning Guide.
- DisabilityAwards.ca is a portal that provides information on grants, loans and bursaries available to Canadian post-secondary students with learning disabilities. DisabilityAwards.ca is sponsored by the National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS).
- Advocacy skills are important for students with learning disabilities in post-secondary settings. There are many books that have been written in this area such as “Self-Advocacy Skills for Students With Learning Disabilities: Making It Happen in College and Beyond.”
- LDonline has a section on LDs and college. Two articles that we like are “Questions to ask colleges about assistive technology” and “Self-advocacy in educational settings.”
- The New York Times has recently featured an article, “Colleges for students with learning disabilities” on US colleges that are exclusive to students with LD and ADHD.
The list goes on and on…there are so many resources out there! Feel free to post more links in the comments or contact us and we can add more.
How can assistive technology help?
There are many different technologies that can help students with learning disabilities. Most college and university centres for students with disabilities (and sometimes even governments) provide information, accommodations, resources and support with many types of assistive technologies. Software is primarily designed to bypass difficulties associated with reading and writing, and can be excellent options. There are several new options, however, in the way of apps in the areas of productivity, notetaking, research assistance, and organization that centres may not yet be aware of.
Organizational strategies for students with LDs in college or university is key to success. With a course load, research papers, collaborative assignments and a social life to juggle, college life can often be overwhelming. Effective note-taking, organization and research skills are extremely important. Here are 10 apps that we like in the area of productivity and organization:
1. Audionote ($4.99)
Audionote is an app that syncs audio in real time to your notes. What does this mean? Say you are in a lecture. As you take notes, the audio of the instructor who is speaking will be recorded and synced with your notetaking. When you go back to your notes later, you can listen to the audio that was spoken at that particular point in time as a backup to your notes, or to see if you have missed anything. This is a great tool for teaching yourself to take notes as well, as you can see if what you are recording in your notes is accurate. Gizmodo.com gave it a Bronze Medal in their “Best note taking apps” post. One caution to using this app: be sure to take note of your college, university or instructor’s policy on recording in class – or speak to your student support centre.
2. Penultimate ($1.99)
Penultimate is a handwriting app used for primarily notetaking purposes, and should be used with a stylus (a specialized pen for the iPad). You write your notes or draw your illustrations (different colors are available) on “paper” and it is then stored for you in a “notebook.” Each notebook is filed away and your notes are always accessible to you. This is a good app for short notes, drawings, graphs, and equations – great for subjects like physics, chemistry, economics, music and many others. It takes a bit of getting used to, especially if you’ve never used a stylus on the iPad. We don’t recommend this app if you find the fine motor aspect of writing very strenuous and difficult. However, if you are comfortable writing, we like the fact that notes are stored neatly and the interface is very simple to use. You can then e-mail your notes in pdf format to share them with a group.
3. Audiotorium Notes ($4.99)
Audiotorium Notes is a note-taking app that has similar features to Audionote with a few key differences. It allows you to synchronize your notes to Dropbox — meaning that you can access your notes from anywhere on any computer or browser. You don’t even have to sync your iPad to your computer, you have complete freedom and mobility to access your notes in the cloud.
Audiotorium Notes has some other nice features as well; the option to choose from a wide range of texts and “paper,” audio syncing, category creation for extensive organization and time-stamping of your notes within a very easy-to-use interface. It supports the use of another app, TextExpander, which can allow you to create “shortcuts” to commonly typed phrases (like formulas or acronyms). Lastly, it can even continue to record audio even if the app is closed, allow you to multitask and still record during class. For note-taking in class, however, we recommend this app with an external keyboard.
Here is a nice video overview:
4. Notes Plus ($4.99)
Notes Plus is a comprehensive note-taking app that requires a little basic training. However, we find it easy to learn and there is a nice “getting started” video tutorial and examples within the app. Your notes are organized within “notebooks” with unlimited pages. Audio can be recorded and synched with notes. You can use typed text or handwriting within the app but if using handwriting, we feel that this would be best used with a stylus.
A few features that are useful for students with LDs include the ability to mix handwriting with text, a “close-up” window in which you can write with greater fine-motor control, and the ability to draw shapes with built in auto-detection. This means that when drawing diagrams or shapes, the app will detect what you are drawing and add it in for you. For students with LDs this could be a real time-saver, and can increase the neatness and readability of your notes-great for math and social sciences. Another useful feature is the”Palm Pad” which is used to protect your notes by preventing the iPad from detecting your palm when writing. This provides a visual cue to where the “protection” is and allows you to comfortably rest your hand on the iPad without it impacting your notes.
The company also created a great video overview:
5. iThoughts ($7.99/iPhone), iThoughts HD ($9.99/iPad)
iThoughts HD is a comprehensive mindmapping app that we have covered in previous posts. Use it for notetaking, brainstorming, organizing your ideas, etc. This app has multiple transfer options (e-mail, Dropbox) as well as export options into a variety of formats, including other mind map applications. There are other features useful for college and university students, such as placing mind maps into folders with attached notes, as well as due date reminders. Just a quick note-if you are looking for a simple, more basic but free mindmapping app, try SimpleMind.
6. iStudiez Pro ($2.99)
iStudiez Pro is an app that helps you manage and organize your college or university academic schedule and courseload. This app organizes access to your calendar, schedules (semesters, classes) as well as instructor information, assignments, study groups, deadlines, etc in one app. Entering information is simple, and once completed, iStudiez Pro sends out notifications for deadlines and classes each day-a great way to keep organized. One of their newest features allows the app to “Cloud Sync” enabling it to synchronize your data on all your iOS devices and back it up to their servers. Their website has a very comprehensive guide to using the app.
7. inClass ($Free / $2.99 in-app upgrade to no ads)
inClass is a free app that has some features similar to iStudiez Pro. It is a good basic app for organizing your terms, courses and daily calendar but it also has the additional benefit of note-taking with the app. So, your notes are organized for you within your courses and your daily schedule. However, there are some important features within the note-taking option that allow it to stand out: when note-taking you have the option to record audio (even in the background), insert or take a picture as well as file-share. All useful options for students with LDs, as students can benefit from audio and visual enhancements to printed notes as well as the tight integration of reminders of due dates of tasks in courses.
8. Diigo for iPad ($Free)
Diigo for the iPad provides offline management of a Diigo library. Diigo is what’s called a “social bookmarking” tool – a method to organize, store, manage and search for bookmarks of resources online. Bookmarking is very useful for college or university students with LDs as an organizational research tool – as an example, Diigo would allow you to compile websites, pictures, pages, photos, links etc. for a research paper and save the information in specified categories, all in one accessible place. You can then also share the information with your peers online. It also has the option to highlight and add sticky notes to webpages creating a “highlighter/annotator” for the web. Besides providing access to all the Diigo web-based tools, the iPad app installs a little “diigolet” on your toolbar, allowing you to collect and store information easily on their iOS device, but have it automatically synched with your Diigo account. This great feature of Diigo allows for accessing information anywhere. Did we mention Diigo is a free app?
It wouldn’t be possible to talk about organizational apps without talking about Springpad and Evernote. Both are web-based information management and organizational apps and allow you to collect information to be organized, categorized and retrieved whenever you need it. You can automatically synch all the information in these apps to the “cloud” and they both have iOS, other mobile phone, computer and web-based apps. They both go beyond what Diigo can do (and end up being very different applications).
Springpad is almost a life management tool; in addition to helping you organize information, it also allows you to organize individual tasks and projects, personal information by adding notes, audio notes, or pictures. Another great feature: Springpad categorizes information for you as you find it. It it uses your preset tags to split and organize your information automatically. If you add a movie, it automatically links to the movie trailer and allows you to purchase tickets directly. It can search nearby business, automatically manage pictures and even import information from a barcode scan.
However, one of the best features of this app for students with LDs is the “board” area, in which the student can visually represent a project and add pictures, notes as well as web links. Springpad is fully set up for those who want to share information as well with social media tools. Just when you thought they might be a passing fad, they just passed 1 million users in Feb, 2011. The best part-its another free app!
It may be hard to visualize how helpful this app can be from the screenshots alone. Have a look at the video below that gives a better idea of what you can do with Springpad:
Evernote, with over 6 million users, is the “king” of the online note taking tools. It is an app similar to Springpad but with a few key differences. It is geared towards note-taking, not personal organization, and it more straightforward to use in terms of categorization. In some ways, it is easier to get your head around-a never ending virtual notebook. However, if you want to have every piece of data you enter highly categorized, then Springpad might be a better choice.
Evernote is also best explained with a video overview. Have a look below:
So which one is better-Springpad or Evernote?
It is always a good idea to compare the features of each app before choosing the right one to suit your needs. Both apps are great but have some differences in the way they are structured that makes it very important to try them out before committing to using them. It is important to choose one app and use it well, rather than using multiple apps for organization.
There are a lot of other great articles comparing these two. Here are some to have a look at:
- For a comprehensive comparison of Springpad versus Evernote, see Computerworld’s May 2011 review
- Dan Gold has a very interesting series of blog posts that charts his evolution from Evernote to Springpad (and possibly back). First he fell in love with Evernote, disliked Springpad, (re)liked Springpad. Then wrote a very comprehensive guide to organization with Evernote and Springpad then started falling back in love with the newer Evernote. A very interesting series of reads!
- 40tech has a great article that also bounces back and forth between Springpad and Evernote
- getcomparisons.com also has a good comparison of Springpad and Evernote
Pick the app that best suits you or your students’ needs
All of these apps have benefits and drawbacks. It is important to try them to see what works best for you or for your students. As a bonus: the interfaces of many of these apps work in other languages (we tested French) when you change the language (in settings) of your iPad. So if you are working in one of the 34 other languages available on the iPad, the app interface and auto-correction in your own language will be available to you.
Also-just a reminder that there is a learning curve for some of these apps. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t use them immediately – they take time to learn and to be able to use effectively and efficiently. Don’t give up and you might find that these apps become part of your “toolbox” to support your academic goals.
We are always interested in apps that college and university students with learning disabilities find useful – so send us feedback and let us know what you think. We wish you much success for the upcoming academic year!