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Making Research Fun With Bookshare – Part Three

Guest post by Deborah Armstrong, Alternate Media Specialist, DeAnza Community College, CA

Different Reading Devices…Is it Time for a Change?

If you don’t like reading books on your computer, have you tried portable reading devices?  I found portable devices tedious so I taught myself how to use the two screen-reader friendly DAISY readers for Bookshare members –Victor Reader Soft and Amis.  Both applications let me sort through books on my computer first.  After I do that, I move the books to my portable device to read them.

Also, consider downloading the free Read:Out Loud Bookshare edition text reader. This way you can explore the books on your computer first with an easy-to-use visually oriented program that will let you skip around and skim chapters.  This application has great audio voices.  You can use the same voices with Victor Reader Soft too.  Victor Reader Soft is better for people who are blind and visually impaired; Read Out Loud is better for students with learning disabilities or LD and Amis is a compromise. You may already use access technology, like Kurzweil, Wynn, Open Book, and FS Reader that reads DAISY books well. Ask a technical helper if the software you already use can read Bookshare material.  In addition, don’t worry if it takes you extra time to sort through the books you downloaded.  As you become a good researcher, you’ll know how much time you can allocate to your project.  When it is time to do a real term paper you’ll have insight and can plan your attack.  Spend a half hour each day sorting books.

I get distracted too!  Sometimes, I read an interesting book and fail to get back to the task of sorting.  If this sounds like you, remember that a little discipline can pay off.  Remember the tip in Part Two… create a folder that you can move books you need for your research to a specific folder, for example, “BenFranklinChosen.”

When I am finished sorting out unwanted books I often back up the books to a flash drive.  You can rename the individual book’s folder to reflect what you need to know about the book. You might rename a book “Facts About Asteroids” even if it was originally called “Astounding Asteroids.”  That’s okay!  A good naming convention system is a smart idea.  Such as book title, date, and class project.

Begin Your Research Paper

Hurray!  You are ready to commence the actual research. Load up a book and note the title, author and publisher. Log this information first, so that you will know which notes belong to which book. Explore the table of contents. Read chapters that are relevant.  As you read, don’t panic if you encounter words you do not know.  Some readers, such as Read:OutLoud, Open Book and Kurzweil have built-in dictionaries.  There are dictionary apps for cell phones too. My favorite online dictionary is wictionary, but there others.  Some dictionaries even let you speak the word for which you are searching. Finding a free, easy-to-use dictionary no matter your print disability is easy, and you don’t have to spell perfectly to locate the definition.


We talked about bookmarking in part two.  Don’t forget your DAISY reader’s bookmark capabilities. Quick or temporary bookmarks let you get back to a place with just a few button presses and voila, you can write about this in your research paper. A named or numbered bookmark can identify a phrase or even whole chapter you’ll need for a quote or fact.  A highlight bookmark lets you actually note the start- and end-points of a relevant passage. Some players let you add a recorded voice note to a bookmark, for example your note might say… “This explains why Ben went to Paris.”

I have taken notes in Braille, on a computer at work, on my cell phone and iPod.  Then, using the DAISY reader on my personal laptop, I return to the most important passage, and cut and paste it directly into my draft.  If I want only a few paragraphs from a particular book, I don’t bother to put it on my portable player; I use my DAISY reader on my computer to peruse the book and grab the relevant information.  This system works for me, but it is your job to find a process that works for you. We all have different study habits and learning styles, and I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to try different methods, and choose the one right for you.  The same goes for using technologies, experiment and try different applications and devices.  Experimenting is part of the journey, so expect to not like certain things and move on.

Alas, I hate to be tied to my computer, and I read every day on my commute to school.  I also like to read sitting outside and on vacation, and in the summer, so I make good use of my portable player. If you have trouble sitting still, take a portable player and a small recorder and go outside. Try raking leaves or lounging in the sun with the headphones on and the wind blowing in your hair.  Sometimes, when I cook, I put my player in a closed zip lock bag. This allows me to push the buttons with sticky fingers, read good books and make a great dinner.  I have read over 900 books from Bookshare and I usually do something else while I’m reading.  Some people lose their train-of-thought doing so many things…. so please know thyself first.  I won’t say… “don’t try this at home.”

Organization…How Will You Present Your Findings?

Eventually you will have many good notes, references, quotes and begin to write your first draft  or create a video, podcast or lead a discussion group.

If you are experimenting with me in this blog over the summer of 2011, review your notes and discuss your topic with a friend or relative. If you are trying to earn an actual grade, ask the teacher if you can do an alternate project, such as a class presentation. Many print-impaired people find writing difficult and more teachers now support learning differences.  Teachers want to see evidence that you have investigated your subject and that you are able to share interesting information.  If you don’t like to write, talk with your teacher or professor about other types of presentations.

Universal Design for Learning

Don’t be afraid to ask for technology accommodations and approval to present your information in multiple ways.  This is called “universal design for learning” or UDL.   Learn more about UDL here.

An example of UDL and a popular choice at our college for students who have difficulty writing is to make a movie of what you’ve learned. Many students have presented a short video on their topic to their class instead of writing a traditional paper.  If you are shy, upload your movie to YouTube and simply email the link to your instructor. They will appreciate this.

Whether you are writing a traditional paper, speaking before a class, or just telling a friend about your topic, it pays to get organized. Organize your notes in an order that makes sense to you.  Check facts.  Reread sections and provide supporting details to build on your explanations.

Please avoid parroting what the books say.  At the same time, use your own words to explain your thoughts accurately. In most research, you’ll need to cite your sources. This is why you wrote down the title of each book as you took notes from it.  Did you know that the Read:OutLoud software has a bibliographer tool?  This study feature can be most helpful in accurately citing research.

Teachers, like me, are impressed with students, like you, who can cull information from a variety of sources and assemble it in new ways. With Bookshare as your tool, you have access to a vast library and can pick and choose the information you wish to impart.

Who knows, you might discover that research is an activity you no longer dread, but find fun and enjoyable!  The best part is now you are a true digital navigator, you know about different devices, you can search accessible materials well, take good study notes and use different strategies to present your findings.

Congratulations and good luck!

Debee Armstrong

P.S.  Let me know how you are doing with your summer research by commenting to this blog.  I’ll read your comments and respond.  I’m sure other research explorers would like to hear what you’ve learned too!

One Comment

  1. Colleen

    Thanks for sharing these ideas. I learned quite a bit. I will share your suggestions with my students.
    Colleen Teacher of the Visually Impaired MD

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