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Dakota State University Offers Online Courses, Degrees Using Assistive Technology

Dakota State University Logo


How would you like to earn an online degree from a respected university without touching a computer? You can, using Dragon Naturally Speaking voice recognition software through a special adaptive learning program offered by Dakota State University online.   The Larson Foundation in Brookings, South Dakota, has awarded a generous grant to Assistant Professor Chris Olson (who is a quadriplegic) allowing him to develop a series of voice-narrated tutorial videos for the online college course CSC-105-D31 (01467) Introduction to Computers. This online college course, targeted at students with access issues or disabilities and their counselors, will be offered through Dakota State University in the summer of 2014 (May 19 through August 8, 2014).

The tutorial videos use Dragon Naturally Speaking 12.5 with Microsoft Office 2013. These special online lessons are designed to teach students how to create documents using word processing software, as well as how to create slideshow presentations, spreadsheets, databases, and web pages without using a keyboard or mouse.  


The following types of online students are encouraged to enroll and try out the program:

  • Anyone who has difficulty using a computer with a keyboard and mouse
  • Anyone with quadriplegia
  • War and military veterans with disabilities
  • Anyone with neurological disorders that affect upper limb mobility
  • K-12 teachers who deal with classroom access issues
  • Post-secondary instructors and designers concerned with accessibility
  • Parents of students with disabilities
  • Rehabilitation counselors and trainers


To register for the class with voice recognition software, students will need:

  • Windows 7 or Windows 8 PC system
  • Textbook (a second monitor will be helpful for those who want to use an eBook)
  • Microsoft Office Professional 2013 (available for $20 to DSU students)
  • Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12.5 Premium Edition
  • High-quality speaking microphone
  • Tuition and fee money

Dragon Naturally Speaking logo  


Although Dragon Naturally Speaking 12.5 boasts compatibility with Office 2013, it took considerable time to find workarounds with the voice recognition software to create and/or modify the files from the lessons in the textbook used in the course.   The online Introduction to Computers course consists of 13 voice-narrated tutorials, each 20 to 30 minutes in duration. Each aligns with the chapters in the textbook and the course assignments. The course features three video tutorials for Word 2013, three for PowerPoint 2013, three for Excel 2013, three for Access 2013, and one on how to create a student website.   The tutorials for using PowerPoint and Access were the most challenging to create, mainly because tasks for editing/positioning graphics and creating relationships between database tables require voice recognition to emulate clicking and dragging with the mouse pointer.



Accessibility at Dakota State University


The overall goal of this adaptive technology project is to attract and encourage students with disabilities to complete a college level course. In addition to earning college credits, the skills learned while using voice recognition software will allow students to take subsequent courses, with the possibility of earning an entire college degree online. (DSU offers a wide variety of online degrees that students may be interested in pursuing following the completion of the course.)     The desire to promote educational opportunities for those with disabilities came about through the efforts of the Barrier-Free Learning Committee at Dakota State University. The Barrier-Free Learning Committee (BFLC) began meeting in 2008. The purpose of the committee is to facilitate the pursuit of the most current information and methods with regard to streamlining pedagogical and technological methodologies, devices, delivery systems, and environments which might otherwise prove an impediment to students, faculty, and staff with disabilities.   The committee is comprised of faculty from all colleges in the university, a librarian, the Director of Extended Programs, the web strategist, instructional designer, a worker from the Physical Plant, a student, and the ADA coordinator. Two of the members have disabilities; one is blind and another is a quadriplegic.   For more information about this special class as well as online degree programs for those with disabilities, please contact [email protected].



Sponsored Post: This online education article highlights the unique benefits of projects designed at Dakota State University Online to help ensure that college students with disabilities and mobility challenges have access to the tools and techniques critical for barrier free online learning. Visit Dakota State University in the GetEducated online degree database for information on their more than 28 affordable online degree and certificate programs. Professor Chris Olson, author of this article, completed his master’s degree online through DSU using adaptive technology.


About the Author: Chris Olson is an Assistant Professor in the College of Business and Information Systems at Dakota State University in Madison, SD. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Information Systems from Dakota State University and is currently a PhD candidate through Northcentral University. He teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses, specializing in Office applications, Visual Basic programming, and both client and server side Web programming. He serves on the Barrier Free Learning Committee at DSU, which was formed to ensure that students who rely on assistive software are able to access information effectively. He also oversees Increasing Access to Online Education, which provides free training videos on assistive software.