Tar Heel Typer: An Open Source Alternative Pencil
by Samuel Sennott
The Tar Heel Typer is an excellent new open source writing tool that is a flexible alternative pencil with word prediction that is both available online and as a standalone download. Created by Daniel Parker, a Computer Science Student at UNC Chapel hill and is a collaboration with The Center for Literacy and Disability at UNC. The program runs best in Firefox and is created in Flash and Java. Here is what you first see when you are setting up your alternative pencil. (only a portion of the whole menu)
You can choose your input type between the options of Braille, a keyboard, automatic single switch scanning, and two switch step scanning! There are excellent customization options during scanning such as seeing one letter at a time, or for seeing the whole alphabet. Additionally, you can set for group scanning. The word prediction is a bit basic involving importing a list of your own, but this level of control may be helpful for scaffolding the writing of early learners and I am sure that a text file will float around soon to augment the sample list provided. There are some fun extras as well, including a music player, which in the future could be modified to be a juke box. Also there is a helpful feature that allows you to email the writing when you want!
Here is what it looks like to two switch step scan seeing only one letter at a time. Click on the image to go to that setup.
This project is not only valuable to use with learners right away, but it shows the power of open source software for who we are trying to help provide learning technology to individuals with special needs. This project, as it is created in Flash and Java, running on Firefox, can be easily adapted to run on the XO laptop as well. Just think of what else can be created to run on a machine like that. It will be interesting to look at how the Hawking Toolbar can be integrated with this writing tool on the XO. Thanks goes out to the creator for the excellent work done on the Tar Heel Typer!