One of the highlights of BETT 2016 for those working with children with special educational needs is certain to be the launch of Clicker 7, the latest version of Crick Software’s flagship program. Special World looks at what it offersThere were brief moments during John Crick’s presentation of Clicker 7 when he seemed unsure of the answers to the detailed questions he was being asked. It wasn’t forgetfulness, however. It was the scale and detail of what he was describing.
We were in the Victorian conservatory of a London hotel and Crick Software had invited some of its closest partners, including Special World, to a preview of the latest iteration of a program launched way back in 1995 and last updated in 2011. In the intervening 21 years Clicker has won seven BETT Awards and built an army of loyal followers. Its use has also extended well beyond children with special educational needs (SEN) and the borders of the UK. Today Clicker can be found in over 90 per cent of UK primary schools and there are localised versions in 10 languages ranging from Arabic to Russian.
For those who have followed the Clicker story each chapter has seen the addition of new features and functionality, exploiting the huge technological changes that have taken place over its lifetime. What may have started out as a humble word processor is now a literacy multitool designed to help tackle a wide range of issues. So what can the visitor to BETT expect?
Building on success
As Crick explained, Clicker 6 was the most successful version of the program ever, so when developing an update care had to be taken to retain features considered key to its success. This includes the quick-start page, which enables students to easily and quickly access Clicker’s writing tools. While this has undergone a redesign, making it less cluttered, more intuitive to use and easier to navigate, it still provides rapid access to Clicker’s word processor and its literacy support tools. These include text-to-speech, with high-quality human sounding voices; an enhanced spell-checker; intelligent word prediction; the facility to integrate pictures or symbols with text; and ready access to the full range of activities known collectively as Clicker Sets.
While all of these features have seen significant improvements, some are more immediately obvious than others. For example, in the case of text-to-speech we now have the welcome addition of Rosie and Harry: two new primary children’s voices to read out text. In time these will also be available as part of Clicker’s apps. Clicker Paint, which is integral to Clicker, has also had a thorough overhaul with improved functionality and ease of use bringing it much closer to a full-blown painting program.
Voice Notes and Clicker Board
What are entirely new, however, are tools that support planning for writing, one of which is Voice Notes. These enable students to record their thoughts before beginning to write them down. A student can record a maximum of six Voice Notes within a document, each one of up to a minute in length. Each Note is colour coded and can consist of a single sentence or more, which the student can play back as an aide-memoire when writing. Voice Notes can also be used in other ways; for example, to insert teacher instructions into a document to guide students through an assigned task.
Another impressive new planning tool, demonstrated this time by company co-founder Ann Crick, is Clicker Board. This best resembles a workspace where the various elements of a writing project can be assembled before being brought together to produce the finished product. Teachers will undoubtedly find a variety of ways to use this but one example shown on the day is as an in-built mind-mapping tool. Imagine, for example, getting your class to brain storm the vocabulary they might use in writing a story about Christmas. This activity might take the familiar form of starting with a core word from which others are generated at the end of branches or twigs. That done, the question is what next? On a traditional chalk board or whiteboard the final mind-map might be left on view as a reference point for students when writing their stories. In Clicker 7, however, the entire content of the mind-map can be exported with one click to a word bank grid. From here the student can use it within Clicker as they would any other Clicker grid.
Clicker Sets, as John Crick explained, have evolved over Clicker’s lifetime from simple standalone sentence-building grids to grids that include pictures and symbols and that are linked to each other in sets. In version 6 of Clicker we also saw the introduction of Quick Wizards designed to further reduce the time spent by teachers on creating a range of standard pages and grids. These Wizards provide short-cuts for the full gamut of Clicker activities including creating sentence-building grids, word banks, picture banks, matching, sequential story telling, book-writing, listen-and-say, and using pictures to stimulate talk. In Clicker 7 this ease of use is taken one step further with the facility to edit existing sets rather than having to create new ones from scratch.
In his presentation John Crick illustrated how this editing is done for different types of set. He started with a simple sentence-building grid. Here you can edit the model sentence and the changes are automatically reflected in the grid, or you can edit the words in the grid and the changes are automatically reflected in the model sentence. This editing facility even extends to changing the manner in which the model sentence is presented, whether you choose speech-only, placing the model sentence on top of the grid or having it appear as a pop-up. These changes can be made to a single grid or applied to a whole set. To make things even easier Clicker 7 only presents the editing tools you need based on the type of set you are editing and, thanks to the addition of colour-coded icons, it is now easier to identify different types of set without having to first open them. This colour-coding is also used in LearningGrids, Clicker’s online library of free resources, which makes it easier for teachers searching for different types of activities.
Another area that has been revamped is Clicker Books. This is one of four Clicker features that have developed an independent life as apps designed for the iPad; the others are Clicker Sentences, Clicker Connect and Clicker Docs. The link between these apps and Clicker means that upgrading one benefits the other. Earlier in his presentation John Crick had shown how Clickers new editing tools could be used with Clicker Connect files passed between an iPad and a desktop running Clicker. Now similar editing tools are available for Clicker Books, another distinct form of Clicker Sets.
Clicker Books is designed to give children the tools they need to create their own talking books. Students can add their own text, paint pictures, insert photographs and record sound, while benefitting from key Clicker features such as text-to-speech and intelligent word prediction. The new editing tools are child friendly as they assume that children themselves will edit Clicker Books. As well as changing text and images students can change page lay-outs, either choosing from existing templates or designing their own, and rearrange the page order as they see fit. It is also now fully switch accessible.
Of course for teachers working with children with special educational needs accessibility is a key consideration when choosing software. Clicker has a well-deserved reputation for putting accessibility at its heart, reflected in part in its bevy of BETT awards. It comes as no surprise therefore to learn that Clicker 7 has taken this to the next level with the integration of both eye gaze technology and Crick’s own SuperKeys assistive keyboard.
Eye gaze technology is something Special World has reported on extensively in the past but if you missed Sandra Thistlethwaite’s comprehensive article you can find it here. You can also download Your Essential Guide to Eye Gaze in the Classroom, Inclusive Technology’s excellent 40-page booklet.
SuperKeys emerged from the realisation that many of the students using Crick’s apps required switch access because of difficulties pointing accurately rather than an inability to point at all. Switch access should, of course, be a last resort as it is slow and conceptually difficult for younger users. The company therefore decided that what was needed was something that made keyboard use easier. The solution they came up with was SuperKeys.
This groups the 30+ keys on a normal keyboard into seven clusters that operate as ‘superkeys’. Tap one of the clusters and the keys in it expand to fill the entire keyboard making it much easier for the student to home in on the correct letter. Once the correct key is tapped the cluster immediately closes. If the student has tapped the cluster by mistake he or she can close it without selecting a letter. Combined with intelligent word prediction it makes keyboard use fast and accurate for students who don’t really need to resort to using switches.
See it for yourself
This is a brief summary of some of the major new features of Clicker 7 but there was copious note-taking at November’s presentation which may mean that some of that tough questioning will inform further changes. I should also mention that for the first time students at schools purchasing the Clicker 7 Site License will also be able to install Clicker on their home computers, giving them access to a consistent level of literacy support wherever they are working. This is in addition to all teachers and teaching assistants within the school being free to use Clicker 7 at home.
Pricing details were still being confirmed in November but we were told that anyone who had bought Clicker 6 from April 2015 would only have to pay the price difference to upgrade to version 7. The current site licence for Clicker 6 is £1995 and for Clicker 7 it will be £2200.