Systems of Support Supporting Educator Excellence through Technology and Strategy

Tips for Turning Classroom Content Digital

In last week’s post I talked about the importance of using digital text in the classroom. However, making the transition from traditional content to digital is not always an easy process. While there are many digital resources available, you still have to find them. And if nothing suitable is found, you may have to resort to converting/scanning your traditional materials into a digital format. The purpose of this post is to provide a few ideas for finding and creating digital content of your own.

In my experience finding materials that are already digitally available is easier than scanning tons of existing paper based materials. For content, start with websites that offer high quality and appropriate information. For example, the National Geographic Educator’s website offers tons of resources, lesson plans and more on a wide range of topics for science and social studies.

Finding digital versions of textbooks can be trickier due to copyright issues, but many students with disabilities in the US qualify for access. Each state handles this differently, but most will have access to a digital repository that may already have a digital version of the textbook available. In addition, many publishers know that more classrooms are going digital and either already offer the textbook to all students in an electronic format, or offer the electronic version as a separate purchase. If you are on a textbook committee I urge you to choose textbook providers that offer a digital version of the book.

In the event you need to turn existing content into digital content there are plenty of options for that as well. Many scanners come with software that will easily convert your printed material into digital material. One critical feature to look for is that software has the ability to “OCR” content. OCR stands for Optical Character Recognition and basically means that it recognizes when you are scanning text and makes it accessible to technology such as text-to-speech software. Unfortunately many high capacity copy machines in schools that allow you to quickly scan 50+ pages and have them emailed to you as a PDF do not OCR the pages. It simply snaps a picture of each page. In these cases you will still need to run the PDF through OCR software to make it accessible.

Depending on your device, several options exist to create accessible digital materials. Here are options based on various platforms:

  • iPad/iPhones – As with anything i-device related there are tons of apps that can help with making content accessible. I recommend TextGrabber + Translator ($5.99 in the iTunes store) from Abbyy simply because Abbyy develops the best scanning and OCR technology on the market. For years scanning machines have used Abbyy software to make materials digital and they are always improving. This app allows you to snap a picture of an article, worksheet, etc… with your iOS device and it will turn it into digital text (and translate it if needed!). Once complete students can listen to it read aloud from the device or email it and access on a different device.
  • Desktop/Laptop Computers – Software from Abbyy and other companies can be purchased and installed on both Macs and PCs. The software usually isn’t cheap however, so it may be wise to purchase one copy for a teacher machine if you go this route. The purpose of this software (if used without a scanner) is to take already existing digital content that is not accessible and OCR it so that it is accessible.You will also find that many schools already have access to software applications that offer scanning/OCR supports.  For example, Read&Write Gold literacy support software is used by many of the schools I work with and has advanced scanning supports built in. While Read&Write Gold is not free, schools who purchase site licenses have unlimited access to the software on all computers. The money saved from scanning software alone can offset much of this cost. Schools with access to Read&Write  can either plug existing scanners into a computer and use the built in software, or OCR already existing (but inaccessible) materials.
  • Google Apps/Chromebook Users – Chromebook users will find scanning materials a little more difficult because most scanners do not work directly with Chromebooks. Instead, materials are typically scanned elsewhere and shared via Google Drive. An option for digital content that is already available, but not accessible, is to use the OCR feature in Google Drive. While it is limited at this time, I find it useful for smaller documents that need to be turned into an accessible/editable format. To use, simply go to your Google Drive account, click the settings icon, hover over “Upload settings,” then be sure to check “Convert text from uploaded PDF and image files” (see image below). This will convert PDF or image files to a Google Document. For example, if you have a one page document you want to convert, the result after uploading it to Google Drive would be a 2 page Google Document. The first page would be an image of what was uploaded and second page would be the editable copy. This allows you to compare what was converted to the original. I believe the current limit for conversion is 10 pages (per file).

Google Drive Screenshot


Hopefully this post has not only encouraged you to start using more digital content, but also to dig into some of the tools I’ve mentioned above. I will be the first to admit that the solutions I’ve listed here are only a few of the many options that are now available for creating accessible digital content. If you have tried other resources that worked well for you please list them in the comments section below so that others can benefit.


About Jason Carroll

Jason has trained thousands on Assistive Technology and Universal Design for Learning concepts throughout the United States and beyond. His focus is on integrating research based practices into the work he does and helping others ensure that what they are doing works. He specializes in assisting people to bridge the gap between operation of technology and actual implementation. Jason is a published author, has taught Instructional Technology and Universal Design for Learning at the University level, and spends a significant amount of time on e-Learning and blended learning initiatives. He is a graduate of the Assistive Technology Applications Certificate Program (ATACP) from California State University at Northridge and holds a Masters in Business Administration. Currently Jason serves as Product Marketing Manager for North America at Texthelp Inc. where he oversees new product launches and speaks nationally on a variety of Assistive Technology topics.

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