BY COLE MCNANNA // MARCH 10, 2016 //
Within the confines of the Levin Library, tucked away in the corner of the Quiet Study Lounge on the basement floor of the building, lies the Learning Lab.
Curry College’s newest advancement in learning aids holds four computers stocked with assistive technology as well as a printer and scanner to help students with learning disabilities. On top of that, there are headphones set aside for students to block out noise and better focus on any task at hand.
The assistive technologies loaded on these computers include Dragon Naturally Speaking Speech Recognition Software, which allows users to speak their words as opposed to typing. On the other end, there is software called Kurzweil 3000, which speaks texts to its users.
There are also two systems that magnify the reading text, as well as software that allows users to create a visual representation or diagram of their thoughts, called Inspiration.
All of these resources are commonly used by members of the Program for Advancing Learning (PAL) and students who are registered in the Office of Disability Services (ODS) with Christopher “Chip” Kennedy. However, all Curry students now have access to these assets through the new Learning Lab.
“The purpose of this is so that assistive technology is available for all students,” said Kennedy. “Obviously it’s meant for students with a disability…but it’s really meant for any student who wants to utilize that.”
This center of learning is fairly new—it opened the beginning of this semester—but it has been a project in the waiting for almost five years.
“This has been something that I’ve been pushing for for about four and a half years now,” said Kennedy. “I’ve been pushing for there to be a computer lab on this campus with assistive technology.”
A factor that held back their advancement was the old organization of the library, which had taken use of the room that currently hosts the Learning Lab.
Once the rooms were available, there was a process to determine the best use for the newly vacant rooms. Ed Tallent, the Dean of Faculty and former director of the Levin Library, teamed up with Kennedy to create the foundation for the Learning Lab and noted that there was some competition for the new space.
“There were multiple possibilities, as there were multiple space needs both in the library and in the college,” said Tallent. “Some of the possibilities were more using the space for more traditional library space needs, such as study spaces.”
Tallent went on to deliver a positive verdict, however, saying, “The happy ending is that the library space ended up being used for a college-wide need. That is not always the result of space decision-making processes.”
Once all the pieces of the puzzle finally came together, the prospect of recruiting students took center stage as the primary factor of its nonuse. With it being such a new resource, many students did not (and still do not) know that it exists.
Kennedy and his staff in turn created informational brochures outlaying the premises and technologies available to students. They placed these brochures in the PAL and Admissions buildings to promote to current and prospective students. They also sent out an email to faculty and staff at the beginning of the semester, and advertise on the biweekly email detailing the events coming up on campus.
Kennedy knows that these are simply growing pains. “It is taking some time, and obviously not everyone is going to use it immediately,” he said. “It’s been a gradual process and as the semester goes on, there’s going to be more students who will be utilizing it.”
Another factor that may hold them back is their location in the Library. However, Kennedy notes that it is crucial to its success.
“I think it’s a great location,” Kennedy said. “It’s good because it’s kind of set back and gives students their privacy, especially in utilizing the different assistive technology. By having that privacy, it’s actually most ideal.”
They have attempted to do something similar to this in past years when they had assistive technologies on two computers on the main floor of the library. “It got no use because it was right in the heart of the computers and the chaos,” Kennedy said. “It didn’t give students any privacy.”
These assistive technology softwares are not new to campus, however those computers are in the PAL building, which is only open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Moving to the library meant having a Learning Lab that is open for over a hundred hours during the week, including weekends.
Kennedy noted that he is excited to do more promotion, with not only current students but also prospective students coming to campus for Accepted Students Day in April.