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I have recently submitted three programs that I use on a nearly daily basis with students at the school where I work. Two of the programs are used mostly as cause and effect media players and the other is a launcher program. Most of the students I work with are developing basic skills with hopes that they will master some sort of scanning approach for indicating preferences, and that they will eventually use these methods for more general communication. I also use these programs with students who use a touchscreen. Below is a more detailed description of these programs.
CDSpecial, myMediaPlayer, Launcher6, eStoryMaker
Simple Adapted Media Players, Program Launcher/Electronic Speech Aid, and a Simple E-story Maker
CDSpecial and myMediaPlayer offer simplified interfaces for direct select and single switch users to enjoy CD Audio and other media files compatible with Apple's Quicktime Technology. The CDSpecial player can simultaneously play a Quicktime compatible video file to provide visual interest along with a CD track. These video files can be any type such as *.mov, *.avi, *.mpg (video formats), *.gif (animated gifs), *.swf (Shockwave Flash) files depending what version of Quicktime is installed. I recommend Quicktime 6.5. The myMediaPlayer (MMP) program can play a Quicktime movie and a music file , *.mid, *.wav, or *.mp3, simultaneously. Both programs offer a delay-to-pause feature that stops play automatically after a defined interval. These programs will run on Windows 95 or newer computers with little as 233Mhz CPUs and 64 Mb of memory. I have noticed that these programs (which were created using Runtime Revolution 1.1) will run excessively slowly on at least one of the computers I have tried. I am not sure what causes this slow down. Possible culprits include anti-virus software, firewall software, or perhaps an inadequate graphic card. Of course, the faster your computer and the more memory it has the better. For the most part, I have had little trouble getting these programs to run just fine.
You can mine the Internet for media files like movie trailers, or look through the directories of many commercially available programs like "KidPix Deluxe" for sources of QuickTime playable files. I also have an Intellikeys keyboard overlay that works with both programs.
Launcher6 can be used as a simple interface for launching programs, a simple electronic speech aid, or as a multimedia game spinner. Launcher6 covers the screen providing users with a restricted environment, allowing choices, but reducing the probability that the user will access the usual Windows interface. Launcher6 is an excellent tool for teaching scanning skills. It supports access using single switch, two-switch, Intellikeys, touch screen and mouse methods. Launcher6 presents the user with six cells, each of which can be assigned the following characteristics using the built in editor:
1. A graphic element of types: '.jpg', '.bmp', '.gif' (animation is ok), or '.png'.
2. A cue either as a sound file, or as text to be spoken via a clipboard text to speech utility.
3. A message in the same way as the cue.
4. A registered filetype or a program to open.
5. A link to another launcher6 setup.
6. An action: hide me, show all, quit, or none.
Launcher6 saves changes as they are made so you don't have to remember to do so.
eStoryMaker is a simple program for assembling an e-story that affords multiple access methods. eStoryMaker can be used to e-book versions of your student's favorite children's books, to recap field trips or special events, to create multimedia social scripts, or to provide a multimedia accounting of each step in a task. eStoryMaker is also designed to work well with Launcher6. In spite of its name, you construct an e-story by placing text, picture and/or sound files in a folder along with the eStoryMaker.exe file. When you open eStoryMaker.exe, it loads page1.txt, page1.jpg and page1.wav (for example.) When your user asks for the next page, eStoryMaker loads the next set of files in the page sequence, if they exist. So, you have to name your picture files, record and name sound files, and create text files. You can use a clipboard text-to-speech program to read your story, if you don't want to bother with recording sound files.
There are many freeware tools you can use to help create e-stories. To make e-books from children's books you can use a flatbed scanner, but I often just use a digital camera for quicker results. I take the books outside and shoot the pages in the shade to have good light, but no glare. For picture editing and renaming I recommend using the excellent and free IrfanView program easily obtained from the Internet. To record sound files I most often use the Sound Recorder accessory that comes with Windows. For more precise sound editing, and for converting wav to mp3 files I use the terrific free Audacity program. There are many better free, Internet available alternatives for creating text files than the default Windows Notepad. I have been using a program called EditPad that most importantly supports multiple files being open simultaneously (unlike Notepad.) Finally, I can recommend 2 freeware text-to-speech programs, Deskbot and SayzMe. Both are easily obtained on the Internet and use the freeware Microsoft Agent technology. I prefer Deskbot, and set its options to read the clipboard text only without any extra, distracting animations.
Improvements to Launcher6 and MMP, and how to create moveable setups on CD-ROM
Across all of my programs I have improved access consistency. If all your user has is an adapted mouse, all progrrams Launcher6, MMP and eStoryMaker all support a scan on click mode. Secondly, I have attempted to make all references to file paths that identify resources relative to the application that calls for them. I did this to make it easier to construct a CD-ROM from which you can successfully execute Launcher6 and MMP. This makes installing Launcher6 setups and MMP setups onto a local hard drive as simple as copying everything into a folder on that hard drive. Admittedly, my effort to make relative file paths is not complete, but what I have done should provide a strategy for constructing setups you can relocate successfully. Here's how:
If you are using Launcher6 as a program launcher put it in a folder along with folders to contain any resources required by Launcher6 such as picture and sound files.
Next, if you plan to use Launcher6 to launch MMP inside the Launcher6 folder create folders named for each media element that you want MMP to play. Into each of these folders copy a media element and the MMP program.
It would also be a good idea to also place any other files, executable or registered file types, into sub-folders of the Launcher6 folder.
Now, open Launcher6, choose pictures, set links and build additional setups referencing only elements in the Launcher6 folder or its subfolders.
Test everything setting links for your MMP references to media elements, and make any changes necessary to file or folder names.
You should be able to move the Launcher6 folder, and all the sub-folders, to a CD-ROM or anywhere else.
Contact Jim Luther via email: firstname.lastname@example.org