CEC Theses and Dissertations

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Date of Award


Document Type

Dissertation - NSU Access Only

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Computing Technology in Education (DCTE)


Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences


Laurie P Dringus

Committee Member

Steven Terrell

Committee Member

Laurie P Dringus

Committee Member

Maxine S Cohen


The goal of this study was to improve English language proficiency of undergraduate second-language learners (SLLs) through the use of literacy-based assistive technology (AT). Both current literature and the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) model suggest that literacy-based AT, while traditionally designed to assist students with learning disabilities, can benefit learners studying in a second language. This study adapted the Times Series Concurrent Differential (TSCD) research methodology to test the efficacy of AT for second language learners. TSCD involves the collection of a series of participant performance measurements both with and without the aid of AT. The difference between the two sets of measurements represents the impact of the AT.

Fifty-four participants (32 SLL, 22 non-SLL) enrolled in a cross-section of Cape Breton University's Shannon School of Business courses participated. The adapted TSCD model was applied through a series of structured reading exercises that alternated use of AT with traditional reading over a full academic term. The reading assignments were drawn from course material and accounted for a small percentage of the class mark. In non-intervention exercises, participants read and reviewed assignments directly from printed course material. In intervention exercises, participants read and reviewed digital copies of the required material with the aid of PDF Equalizer. A secure Moodle site facilitated digital material access, performance measurement, and data management.

A multivariate analysis of covariance (MANCOVA) determined a significant effect (9%) of the use of screen-reading software on academic performance of SLLs and a positive but insignificant effect (3%) of the use of screen-reading assistive technology on academic performance of non-SLLs. In addition, more SLL participants reported that the use of screen-reading software improved their reading (84%), listening (75%), and writing (56%) skills as compared to their non-SLL counterparts (36%, 41%, and 27% respectively). The majority of SLLs also reported that the use of the screen-reader had a positive effect on their academic performance (84%), improved their study skills (84%), and increased their confidence (78%) in their English language skills.

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