Interview

As I continue on the path of teacher competencies and support with assistive technology (AT) for students with disabilities, I recently conducted an interview with a colleague of mine. A Learning Specialist at a center for students with disabilities at a public institution of higher education, “Shelby” has provided some great feedback and insight to the issue. I summarized her major points to give you a glimpse of what we discussed.

 

1) What do you believe are the benefits of AT use in classrooms?

Definitely accessibility. Students with disabilities may not be able to access materials the same way that a student without a disability may. Where we’re at with technology overall is access. It equals the playing field. It allows for students with disabilities received the same information that’s presented and, hopefully, perform at the same level as their peers.

 

2) In your opinion, what does an ideal classroom outfitted with assistive technology look like?

There is no ideal classroom because person A and person B could have the same disability, but it could impact them differently. For example, with my blind students, one may use a cane to mobilize, another may not. That said, we need to be proactive with our faculty so that they are developing their courses and curriculum in a way that supports students with disabilities. Also, I think this type of classroom would consider different learning styles as well and different methods to deliver the content.

 

3) How would you describe the teacher’s role in this classroom?

They have to be open to differences and new methods to serving their students. With the technology we have today, such as iPads in the classroom, they have to be a bit more flexible than in the past. They also need to have a basic willingness to support students with disabilities.

 

4) What about parents? Where do they fit in?

At home, parents don’t always have the same access across the board. It’s different in K-12. Parents definitely have to be that voice for their student especially if their student has trouble speaking up.

 

5) Research indicates that teachers feel incompetent and under-prepared for using AT with their students. How does that make you feel?

You know I could see that. It’s virtually impossible to keep track of everything and know about all types of technology. I think at some point, it’s up to the teachers to seek out help and training to learn more about the types of assistive technology they’re using with their students. There are a lot of great resources through Google, Android, even Apple and social media that can be helpful to teachers. You can’t keep track of everything without patching in to a greater community.

 6) Do you believe that we need to change our approach to teacher support? Why or why not?

They definitely need support from administration. That needs to remain in place. I think the return is so huge in narrowing the gap, especially in K-12, for students to get access to assistive technology in terms of how well they learn and stay within their grade level. I think there’s more than enough reasons for them [teachers] to have the support, they just don’t always get it.

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Technological Feedback

As a follow up to my first entry, I’d like to stay on topic with assistive technology (AT) and the teachers that use them. The purpose of this blog is not only to showcase helpful AT, but to also solicit feedback from teachers to see how comfortable they are with using these devices and interventions. I imagine the participatory audience of teachers of students with physical disabilities to be on the smaller side, so feedback from teachers who do not teach said students are welcomed to participate as well. Lastly, the results aren’t meant to be shared publicly, but to give you an insight on where you stand. That said, feedback is always welcomed in the comments section.

Types of Assistive Technology

(1) Talking calculators: relaying mathematics via audio.

Your familiarity or comfort level with this device

(1 = Unfamiliar / Uncomfortable; 5 = Very familiar / Very comfortable)

1                      2                      3                      4                      5

(2) Text-to-voice: similarly to the talking calculator, it allows for students with audio and/or visual impairments to hear what is written.

Your familiarity or comfort level with this device

(1 = Unfamiliar / Uncomfortable; 5 = Very familiar / Very comfortable)

1                      2                      3                      4                      5

(3) Portable word processors: similar to a laptop though usually fitted with many AT helpful features, this device allows for students to meet their processing needs.

Your familiarity or comfort level with this device

(1 = Unfamiliar / Uncomfortable; 5 = Very familiar / Very comfortable)

1                      2                      3                      4                      5

(4) Alternative keyboards: keyboards that meet the needs of a student with disabilities whether ergonomic or spacial.

Your familiarity or comfort level with this device

(1 = Unfamiliar / Uncomfortable; 5 = Very familiar / Very comfortable)

1                      2                      3                      4                      5

(5) Switches: a device that allows for remote access to a computer and it typically easier to use than a keyboard and mouse.

Your familiarity or comfort level with this device

(1 = Unfamiliar / Uncomfortable; 5 = Very familiar / Very comfortable)

1                      2                      3                      4                      5

(6) Phonetic spelling software: helpful for students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia.

Your familiarity or comfort level with this device

(1 = Unfamiliar / Uncomfortable; 5 = Very familiar / Very comfortable)

1                      2                      3                      4                      5

(7) Scholastic keys: simplifies the Microsoft interface for students with learning disabilities.

Your familiarity or comfort level with this device

(1 = Unfamiliar / Uncomfortable; 5 = Very familiar / Very comfortable)

1                      2                      3                      4                      5

(8) Outlining software: a tool used to help students who struggle with organization skills.

Your familiarity or comfort level with this device

(1 = Unfamiliar / Uncomfortable; 5 = Very familiar / Very comfortable)

1                      2                      3                      4                      5

(9) Audiobooks: probably just what you’re thinking. This device reads text aloud to students.

Your familiarity or comfort level with this device

(1 = Unfamiliar / Uncomfortable; 5 = Very familiar / Very comfortable)

1                      2                      3                      4                      5

(10) Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART): a typist types what is said and the words are displayed on a screen for all of the class to see.

Your familiarity or comfort level with this device

(1 = Unfamiliar / Uncomfortable; 5 = Very familiar / Very comfortable)

1                      2                      3                      4                      5

(Information on the types of assistive technology and their explanations were provided by the American Institutes for Research)

Take a moment to review your results and think about your current comfort levels with the commonly used AT listed above. If you never have used them, or heard of them, think about how you would feel if placed in a classroom with students that required these types of technologies. I believe it is important to remember that as teachers, our greatest support should be directed to our students. If we are not confident and comfortable with the tools we use to teach them, we are doing them a disservice as their instructor.

Who teaches the teachers?

As a student in an Educational Technology graduate program, I am drawn to various types of technologies that enhance and enrich students’ learning experiences. As an administrator, I recently had the opportunity to teach and, through use of technology in my classroom, I have become curious about teachers at the secondary level, particularly those who work with students with physical disabilities and the technologies they use. I’d like to take a moment to focus solely on that teacher population and pose the following questions: What are teachers’ comfort and experience levels with assistive technology (AT), and whose responsibility is it to educate them with assistive technology?

These questions might not be simple to answer, but what I have learned from the research are 3 major takeaways:

– Teachers want to feel comfortable with use of assistive technology, though aren’t sure where to find training.

– There needs to be buy-in from more than just the teachers (e.g. students, parents, school board)

– Programs such as these are few in number, yet very necessary.

Population

Teachers of students with physical disabilities are sometimes afforded the opportunity to utilize AT in the classroom. Technologies such as switches, audio visual enhancements, and braille printers can allow for students with physical disabilities keep pace with their classmates who don’t have a physical disability. While very helpful, preparedness with these technologies (e.g. comfort levels, years of experience) varies greatly among teachers.

Programming

Research that studied teacher readiness and preparation for use of assistive technologies touched on the lack of their experience and their low comfort levels. Of the 15 most recently published research articles I’ve found on this topic, all but 3 mentioned a need for teacher preparation and training programs, one of which stated, “Few…training programs for special education include courses or even class sections on assistive applications and issues related to these devices”. The lack of programming is a big concern of mine and I wonder whose responsibility it is to teach the teachers. Maybe the students themselves should have input, or parents of said students. Maybe it is the responsibility of upper level administrators, or it is directed by the budget.

Wong and Cohen (2012) believe that “stakeholders working with students with disabilities need not be an expert in all types of assistive technology, rather, to focus on those that serve the needs of the individual…greater collaboration between other special educators and professionals in the field is necessary.” So maybe the better question isn’t who is responsible to help, but how can we all play a part in educating our teachers to serve this student population in the best way possible? Think about it: if our teachers are not afforded the opportunity to use, and/or are not prepared to use different types of AT, then they are doing a disservice to that student population and potentially stunting educational growth. So what now?

Problem Solving

A recent article in The Berkshire Eagle discussed a new nine course, 18 month graduate level degree program being offered to help teachers learn how to effectively and efficiently use assistive technologies for and with their students. With a partnership between The Reading Institute and Simmons College, this further expresses how important collaboration is to help these students and teachers.

More questions than answers are being raised and, with the lack of recent research in this area, I’d like to suggest a model that could potentially be implemented to combat this issue:

ADDIE-process

Based on the ADDIE model, the following is an example of how a teacher preparedness program could be developed and utilized:

Analyze: Analyze the current level of comfort and experience with assistive technologies among teachers; assess for a programming need; determine what is currently available to help teachers.

Design: Design a need-based curriculum with input from stakeholders such as students, parents, fellow teachers, and board members.

Develop: The plan of implementation should be laid out with details on who will be involved, total program length, major program goals, funding, and a formal start date.

Implement: Test run the program.

Evaluate: Complete a formative (during the planning and implementation process) and summative evaluation (at the conclusion of the planning and implementation process); make changes when applicable.

What I’ve suggested is a broad overview of a model to be used and it is imperative that the details of each step should be unique to the teacher and student population, as well as based on resources available.