Saturday, December 12, 2009

Discovering Assistive Technology: Module 5

Again, this discovery model of learning has been extremely beneficial for me.  With guidance, I have found new ideas, new tools and new ways of thinking.  The book suggestions at the end of this module are great and will be helpful as I introduce some of these topics in my classroom.  Below are the responses I have to questions posed at the end of the modules.

1.  Ultimately, I really have a better sense of what assistive technology encompasses and how it can be used in the classroom.  I really appreciated all the of examples of AT!  This gave me an idea of not only what was out there, but how it could be used.  I know that my view of AT prior to this experience was extremely limited.  I also have really been thinking about how technology we already have could be used in an assistive way.  For example, all of our computers have access to Garage Band, but yet we don't use this great tool for students who struggle with reading, for whatever reason.  This wasn't intended as an assistive technology, but it sure could be used that way.  I guess I have just been considering more ways in which I can meet all needs of my students.

2.  I would recommend both tutorials, 23 Things and Discovering AT.  Both of these are designed to introduce new concepts to a wide variety of people, at their own pace.  And both focus on concepts that will become even more crucial in the future of education.  However, I did find that the 23 Things was less intimidating in the type of activity and the amount of work required.  Especially in Module 4, the discovery exercises moved us well beyond discovery on our computer and required us ( if you followed instructions) to plan ahead, and arrange a visit and a school program.  To me, this could be a suggestion but not a discovery activity. Also, three links that I tried for this module are not longer available.  That is discouraging when the links that are available for you to discover are no longer there.  That said, time spent on this tutorial would be valuable for all classroom teachers.

3.  I would use those books in my classroom!  I have a few of those titles and I think that it is very important to include them in our classroom collections.  Thanks for the suggestions!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Discovering Assistive Technology: Module 4, Assistive Technology Websites

The following websites are helpful resources for providing information on assistive technology or could be useful in the classroom setting.

The National Center on Accessible Technology in Education(AcessIT)
AccessIT is designed to help educational institutions find information about assistive technology. The searchable Knowledge Base allows users to search for questions and then answer them with case studies and examples of best practices. This will be extremely helpful for the classroom teacher.

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
This page on the ASLHA website offers FAQs about assistive listening devices (ALDs).  A brief overview is given of ALDs, which is followed by descriptions of devices that could be used.  This is an excellent starting place for all teachers.

Assistive Technology for Children with Autism
This online paper by Susan Stokes provides strategies and different levels of technology that could assist students with autism.  As a teacher who has students with autism every year, it is important to keep up to date with this area of assistive technology.

Axistive is an excellent source for the latest review and news about assistive technology, as well as organizations and services.  Use of the site would help teachers stay current on the newest products and opportunities for their students.

LD Online
LD Online provides a host of interventions, strategies and product suggestions for students with learning disabilities.  As the sometimes unseen disability, this is the most commonly encountered in the classroom setting.

Discovering Assistive Technology: Module 4, Center for Independent Living

The Freedom Center for Independent Learning is located in Fargo, ND and serves over twenty counties between North Dakota and Minnesota.  According to their website, the goal of the Freedom Centers is to "work toward equality and inclusion for people with disabilities".  The center offers information on topics relating to disabilities and will also refer people to appropriate agencies. They  provide training for a variety of skills, which could include meal planning, personal care skills, and social skills. The center offers training in self-advocacy, but also will provide representation when people are trying to secure appropriate benefits or services.  Finally, the Freedom Center also trains individuals to be peer mentors and matches them people who may be going through similar situations.

The information was retrieved by visiting the Freedom Center's website at

Discovering Assistive Technology: Module 4, School Presentation

Because it is Saturday and I need to blog about this by Sunday evening, I am unable to plan a school visit.  I do have lots of questions, however, about planning an event like this.

To begin, how does one design a visit so that students don't focus entirely on the disability, having the reaction of treating the person like a superhero or showing pity (as discouraged by this week's module)?  I agree that students need to interact with people from all walks of life, in order to start building common experience with other people, but I am concerned that just bringing in a person with a disability would send the wrong message.  Is it more appropriate to bring in a panel of people to discuss a particular topic, working to include people with many different perspectives? I wonder if this would introduce students to people with disabilities, but instead of focusing on the disability, would focus on his/her expertise?  Is this working too hard to be PC that it ends up being a meaningless experience?  I am just "writing" out loud here.

Also, I believe that we work very hard in public education to make modifications for students with disabilities that allow them to be as independent as possible.  We also make modifications daily for students without disabilities by providing homework help, organizational assistance, and enrichment.  I think that an important lesson for students is that everyone needs help sometimes.  That people who have an identified disability may just need different types of assistance.  How does one teach this to this students? And does this minimize the struggles that people with disabilities face?  That also would not be my intention.  Again, just writing out loud.

Discovering Assistive Technology: Module 4, Quiz results

I just finished taking the quiz relating to people with disabilities.  My results were fair, showing competence in some areas and complete ineptitude in others. I was reminded of a couple of things while reviewing the results.

1.  An other ability (or disability) is only a part (or extension) of a person, not their complete identify.  So instead of referring to someone as disabled, it is more appropriate to say that they are a person with a disability.  I am guilty of this recently when referring to a sector of students as learning disabled, instead of students with learning disabilities.

2.  Although I am still receiving some mixed messages from different resources, offering help when someone with a disability is struggling is not bad.  I am reminded that I would ask a person without a disability if they needed help, and I should offer the same courtesy to someone with a disability.  However, we cannot assume that one needs help and just step in.

3.  Finally, even as I write this post, I am concerned about using the right terminology and not saying anything that would offend.  I believe that if there is hesitancy with these situations, that it is most likely not an issue of being offensive, but of uncertainty. Education, flexibility and understanding are all important to help one another communicate more effectively.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Discovering Assistive Technology: Module 3, Review

Inspiration is an excellent tool for the visual learners. Geared towards grades 6-12, Inspiration provides tools for creating graphic organizers, concept maps, and outlines.  Users can transfer information from a diagram form to an outline, with very little trouble.  This is a great feature that transitions students from the pre-writing phase to their rough draft.  Users are also able to hyperlink text and utilize a variety of templates as starting point for their projects.  Students will find this digital format of a traditional pre-writing activity extremely motivating and helpful as it organizes their information in several different ways. With licenses available for an entire site ($995.00-$7,200.00), it is possible to implement across the curriculum.  Inspiration is also available as a single license ($39.95).  Users should be warned however, that linking ideas together in the web format can be tricky and may cause problems in the resulting outline if not taught carefully.  Although this is not a reason to forego buying this product, it is something to  consider when teaching this tool to your students.

Kurzweil 3000 is also an impressive tool that will support students in reading, writing, and study skills.  Designed for students across all grade levels, Kurzweil 3000 provides aural and visual support for any reading or writing activity.  Whether scanning print material or accessing web-based text, the software will read and highlight words for the user.  A dictionary feature is also available.  Students will also receive editing tips and spelling corrections when writing.  Kurzweil 3000  comes with a set of study skills tools that are designed help students in all areas of the curriculum.  Of most importance, this software allows students to become more independent, even as they still require assistance in reading.  Priced at $2,695 for a pack of five licenses, the software is expensive but will be an excellent tool for small group of one-on-one support.  Besides the pricing, the downside of this software is the computer generated voice.  The unnatural sound may make it awkward for students and in the context of some sentences, words may be misread.

Discovering Assistive Technology: Module 3, Implementation

The software packages that we looked at today were both excellent examples of assistive technology.  In my district we have access to Inspiration and software that is similar in function to Kurzweil, Read and Write Gold.  Using Inspiration as an example, many assistive software is good for all students and not just a specialized population.  The planning and organization tools in Inspiration provide an excellent backbone for all writing or research projects.  All kids can benefit from the visual nature of this software. That being said, implementation of assistive technology becomes easier when we can integrate it into our curriculum, instead of seeing it as an add-on.  The only struggle in this case is getting to the point in your instructional planning that you not only plan for content but also the mode in which it is delivered.  I think this is crucial.  With students who learn in so many different ways, providing multiple instructional modes engages students in the learning style that suites them. By using these software packages that are geared toward the visual and provide tools for information organization, we reach a whole group of learners who appreciate the visual.  So in short, one way I plan to implement assistive technologies is to use the software that we have more strategically, reaching different types of learners within the scope of a unit.

Secondly (and this is short, I promise), I have texts that are difficult for many students.  Those who especially struggle are English Language Learners and those with a learning disability in reading.  In the past, I have used GarageBand to record myself reading the text, as a podcast.  Students can then listen to the text and follow along in the book for visual reinforcement.  I would like to experiment with the software Read and Write Gold.  This will allow me to scan in texts and worksheets, providing my students with support through oral reading. My only concern here is that the computerized voice seems unnatural and may be a distraction to students.  Just a thought...