Magic Invisible Boxes: Advanced PowerPoint AT

Did you catch yesterday’s article over at Therapy Fun Zone on teaching speech to kids with autism? The author of the post, Isy Bee, talks about using interactive PowerPoint flashcards to learn basic language skills. What a great example of putting exactly what we are learning here to good use!!

So far, we’ve reviewed together three basic strategies for creating activities in PowerPoint to support students having learning or access issues: transitions, actions, and animations. 

Today is our first lesson of advanced techniques--the versatile Magic Invisible Box. This clever tool allows you to control the way an activity behaves…invisibly, without altering objects on a page or the page itself.

The wonderful Magic Invisible Box!

What can you use Magic Invisible Boxes for? After all, many times objects can be assigned actions or animations directly, without the need for an invisible cover-up.

·        You can delay students’ access to objects on a page.
If your students use a head mouse or eye gaze to access the computer, this allows you to insert time before action buttons can be clicked. I’ve had trouble in the past with PowerPoint action buttons behaving instantly, activating before the student has a chance to look away.

Similarly, it imposes a non-responsive time to an action button for students with difficulty breaking up repetitive hits on a touchscreen or switch.
Some students may flip through an activity without stopping to read the text or consider choices carefully (no one that you know, right? Nah...). It can help slow these students who need assistance pacing themselves, keeping all the actions blocked for a set amount of time.
An example of a perfect use for a Magic Invisible Box is with pages of an adapted book. We don’t want the student to navigate away from the page without a chance to read it, so we want to prevent access to the navigation buttons.

We could change location of the buttons from page to page, but that would inhibit learning motor patterns.

We could have the navigation buttons set with a delayed entrance animation, but their entrance would be distracting.

Instead, we’ll keep those buttons visible and in the same location but “off limits” because they are blocked. Students are not distracted by the box that keeps them from activating the button because they can't see it. Once the box disappears according to the exit timing we have set, the button underneath becomes clickable.
·        You can create errorless activities by making incorrect choices unavailable for selection. This incorporates the use of triggers, which we’ll cover in the next lesson.

·        You can provide hotspots that are not visually distracting. Or even obvious.
In visual scenes used for communication, for example, you don’t want selectable objects to distract from the picture.

As another example, if you are asking students to locate features in a diagram then you don’t want the features highlighted.
The cursor will change to a hand as it moves over the highlight, though many students are not distracted by this. If it is a problem, you can adjust this setting in your computer to eliminate the visual cue.
In the control panel (1) (in Windows…Macs must surely have a similar option) select mouse settings  (2). You will be offered a dialog box of mouse properties (3); the link select icon option (4) is listed near the bottom. Choose the Browse button (5) to select the new icon, such as the same arrow as your standard cursor.
·        Some specific examples:
o   delay access to a navigation buttons in an adapted book as we talked about earlier. You can download a Book Sample here. Page 2 has the template with the Magic Invisible Box.
o   invisibly trigger an event, such as signaling a troll image to walk “under the bridge” when the stream below the bridge is clicked (more on triggers coming soon).
o   say “You got it right!” when the student clicks the “thorax” on a diagram of an ant as directed.

How do you create a Magic Invisible Box?

There are two ways: simple and complex. They build on the capabilities of PowerPoint animations.

·        Use the simple method when you want a single action, such as playing a sound or video, launching another program, or turning to another page. The magic is that that you can make it appear that ordinary objects, such as text boxes or grouped pictures, are performing this action.

      1.  Insert an object with an action (not an animation!) onto your page. The easiest way is to add an “Action Button” with the pre-assigned behavior. Remember learning about these in the Actions lesson?

These action buttons are simple to use to make
Magic Invisible Boxes.

You aren’t limited to these pre-assigned action buttons, however. You can insert any shape from the menu to match the object you want to cover...even if they aren’t “box” shaped! When shapes are selected, you are offered a highlighted “action” option in the ribbon (2) or a hyperlink option with a right-click menu.  Assign the desired action from the menu.

2. Move the object to the needed location. If you want your Magic Invisible Box to sit over a portion of a picture that will take you to a new page when clicked, then move it to that spot.

For example, if you show the student a map of Asia and ask him to click on Korea, the Magic Invisible Box might take him to a full-page map of Korea.

3. Make the object invisible by formatting (1, or right-click menu) the fill characteristics (2) of your object. Set solid fill (3) to a transparency of 100% (4). This is important; do NOT use “no fill.” You must have a “solid fill” for this to work; it just needs to be 100% transparent or invisible.

4. In the same menu, set the line color (1) to “no line” (2).

5. Save your work and give it a try!

·        Complex behaviors will require a slightly different method. These behave through the use of custom animations. Later we'll learn how these can trigger a string of events (such a cool feature!).
Remember, Animations are behaviors of objects on the screen. Objects can come and go and move around at the same time they play sounds or trigger behaviors of other objects.
Fortunately, the second method for making Magic Invisible Boxes from these objects is similar to the method for making them from action buttons.
1. Insert the shape onto the page where you desire and size it as needed. I use a full-page Magic Invisible Button on most of my adapted books to block access to page forward, page back, and narration for a set amount of time.
2. From the Animations tab (1) or the right-click menu on early versions of PowerPoint, select Custom Animations (2). A window will appear with options to Add Effect (3), which pops up a box of choices (4).

3. Assign the animation you need. You can review the Animations lesson if you need to.
4. Set the object’s solid fill to 100% transparency and the line to “no line” (see #3 and #4 above).
5. Save your work and take it for a test drive.
There are times when a Magic Invisible Box overcomplicates a behavior. Keep it simple.  

For example, if you simply want a clipart cow to say “moo” when clicked, use the Action button to assign the sound directly to the image. But if you don’t want the cow to “moo” until after the student has had time to visually scan the page, a Magic Invisible Box can come to your rescue.
What uses can you imagine for a Magic Invisible Box? Please share your ideas in the comment box. If you need help executing the idea, add that to your comment and we can all brainstorm a solution.
* * * * * * * * 
In case you missed the Basic PowerPoint lessons, you can still catch them here:
1. PowerPoint as Assistive Technology--REALLY! (Intro)

2. AT Considerations for Creating Activities in PowerPoint (making sure the activities you design support the needs of your students)

3. Adapting Books for Computer Access (utilizes PowerPoint)
4. Shortcuts for Making PowerPoint Activities (easy steps for bringing elements from other activities into your new ones)

5. Transitions: Basic PowerPoint AT (increasing engagement through cues between pages)

6. Actions and Hyperlinks: Basic PowerPoint AT (moving around within the activity)

7. Animations:  Basic PowerPoint AT (controlling the behavior of objects on a single page)

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