Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tuesday Tech Tip: Using Chrome to Read Out Loud (Text to Speech)

 We posted previously on how to speak into Chrome for searching, but many of our students also benefit from hearing text read out loud while reading.  So, this week's tech tip is about using Chrome extensions to read web pages and other text aloud within the browser.

If students are doing research, your best bet is to check with your librarian.  Many online databases have built-in dictionaries and read aloud tools for any browser.  (In CCSD, our elementary students will see a read aloud option in Encyclopedia Britannica for any article, like pictured on the side.  Secondary students will see similar options in the EBSCO database.)

If, however, you are using another website that doesn't have read aloud tools, you can try the Read & Write Extension for GoogleDocs.  While this adds read aloud options to GoogleDocs, the extension will also appear in your Chrome URL bar so that you can highlight & read text (and this extension will highlight each word as it reads).  

The Read & Write Extension for GoogleDocs has both a free version and a paid version.  The free version includes the read aloud tool, but most of the other features are part of their paid product ($10 per user per year for groups of 150 or more).  

Other free Chrome tools that will read selected text out loud include iSpeech, Announcify, and Chrome Speak, just to name a few.  While the computer voices can sound a bit unnatural at times, the technology for reading text out loud continues to get better and better.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Tuesday Tech Tip: Using the Readability Extension for Cleaner Web Reading

As we engage our students (and ourselves) with more and more online text, having an interface without ads, pop-ups, comments, and other distractions is becoming increasingly important.  There's a ton of great stuff out there, but focusing on the text itself can be a challenge.

One option for getting an uncluttered version of a website is the Readability Chrome extension.  This extension, when activated on a web page, extracts the core text & images and gets rid of the other junk (bookmarklet tools are also available for Firefox, IE9, and Safari).

In the CNN article below,  bringing up this article from the main page also brings up videos, animated ad content, reader comments (some of which are inappropriate), and side bars to other articles.  In addition, it takes a while to load because of all of the extraneous content.

original view
Clicking on the Readbility extension icon gives you the option to "Read Now."  Choosing "Read Now" cleans up the view for easier (and less distracted) reading -- no ads, videos, comments, or sidebar content.
Readability view
While some websites offer a cleaner view with the print icon, Readibility has a few other attractive features.  Once you're in the Readability view of the article, you can download as an epub, make some basic adjustments to font sizes, & change the page appearance.  You can even use the Scrible toolbar to annotate and highlight the article (which we discussed in a previous post).

The features above don't require an account, but if you want to save it for later or send the article to a Kindle, you can sign up for free.  The free mobile apps (for both iOS and Android) require an account as well as it syncs your reading content.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Tuesday Tech Tip: Reading (and Annotating) Web Pages in Your Browser

Our last Tuesday tech tip was about reading & annotating library books in your browser, and this week's tip is about reading & annotating web pages in your browser.  Since we're using Chromebooks, we'll be focusing on the Chrome extension for Scrible (a free tool currently in beta).  However, you can use Scrible on other browsers (and you can also use its bookmarklet on Safari on iOS).

Once you have the Scrible toolbar extension added to Chrome (and in CCSD, we can push that out to all students in a grade level or school if we wish), a toolbar like the one below will appear at the bottom of web pages (you can drag it around the page after it appears).

This tool bar lets you annotate a web page in 32 different colors, add sticky notes in 32 different colors, change font colors, or change formatting.  You can also create a "legend" for the different annotations on the web page (useful if you would like students to label their color schemes).  If you don't want to annotate or highlight a page, you can click the "x" to close the tool bar (you can also change the options for the extension to not automatically load on every web page).

Once you've highlighted something on a page, you can hover over it to get more options (Delete, Change Color, Attach Note, or Share).  

Students don't need accounts to do highlighting or annotation, but if they need to save it for later access (and for sharing with teachers or peers), students can log in using their CCSD Google accounts.  A student account gives you access to a citation generating tool (which exports to EasyBib), free storage, and the ability to email annotated pages, and share your entire bookmark library.   More information about the student version features can be found on their blog.  Teachers can create a free account and then request an upgrade to the educator version.

Currently, they are working on adding a web-based PDF annotation feature, but this free tool has a lot of potential for our students as they do more and more online reading.  It's definitely worth a look!