Kurzweil Education Systems Being Introduced At UC

Oct. 7, 2010

By Jeff Gentil

When students at the University of Cincinnati are struggling with their studies and need some extra assistance, they have always been able to go to Academic Services. From counselors to tutors, all bases are covered.

Up until recently, human interaction was the only way to get that extra help. But, in the summer of 2009, the University invested in a new program that has opened the door to amazing new possibilities for learning. Thanks to a "Student Opportunities" Grant, UC was able to purchase this groundbreaking piece of software.

Developed in the late 1990s, the Kurzweil Education Systems program features text-to-speech capabilities for students with learning disabilities. But that is just one of many amazing ways to aid students. While its main focus is intended for those with even the slightest trouble reading, it can be used campus-wide for students with difficulty writing papers or even assisting in surfing the internet. Barbara Bruner-Leik was hired by UC Department of Athletics to oversee the implementation of the Kurzweil program after holding the same position for three years at Miami University.

"The software does so many great things," she said. "It can read text to you; it can read websites. Just type in a web address and it takes you there and reads the text. It is a great benefit to students with reading disabilities but it's great for all students."

Lori Wright has been an academic coordinator and learning specialist in Student-Athlete Academic Services for nearly seven years and was part of the initial study to bring Kurzweil to UC.

"We were intrigued by Kurzweil a year ago," Wright said. "We sent out a questionnaire to some of the schools we knew used it and we got a phenomenal response. So, we made a proposal to purchase the software."

It did not take long for the program to have an effect on the faculty and students: "It has had immediate implications," Wright said. "It definitely serves a broader population of students because of the things it can do. It runs the full gamut with all the bells and whistles."

Bruner-Leik witnessed the wonders first-hand at Miami and is not surprised by the reception the program has received in the short amount of time it has been at UC.

"While I was at Miami, the administration heard about it and decided to pilot the program using nine football players," she said. "The students are always blown away. The program costs a lot of money, but it can help every student. It can improve grades no matter what kind of student you are."

The fact that the Kurzweil program is so new to the UC campus means despite its brilliance, not every student knows how to use it.

"It is a work in progress," Wright said. "We have to train other tutors how to use it, so that is a challenge. And if you don't have daily contact with it, that can be another obstacle. Only a select number of students can use it right now so the learning curve is really steep."

"We try to implement Kurzweil in every meeting with a student," Bruner-Leik added. "It does everything Microsoft Word does. The students love it. It's very hands-on and interactive."

Academic Services is more than just the Kurzweil program. Unfortunately, many students are unaware of the wonderful opportunities there to improve. For others, there is a big pride factor.

"Some students are embarrassed to sign up for tutoring," Bruner-Leik said. "And some students don't even think they need help. They just don't know how many great resources are at their disposal. I don't think (our services) are used enough."

One perfect example of the benefits of Academic Services is for the talented student-athletes representing UC. Due to their travel schedules, they tend to miss some class time and can get behind in their studies.

"There are many tools we have that can enhance their time," Bruner-Leik said. "Every quarter we see student-athletes struggle (with eligibility), and there is no reason for that. If they are on the road a lot, a program like Kurzweil can bring them ahead."

The relationship with the UC coaches has been a positive one according to Wright. "All the coaches look to us to see who needs special tutoring. All coaches and sports have been very supportive of what we do."

In the end, the message is very clear to students who need the slightest bit of help. Academic Services is there for the students to use as often as they like.

"We are always revamping," Wright said. "We are always looking for ways to serve the students better. We want to make life easier for all of our students."