What is assistive technology?

Assistive technology is any kind of technology and/or tool that can be used to enhance the functional independence of a person with a disability. Often, for people with disabilities, accomplishing daily tasks such as communicating with others, going to school or work, or participating in activities can be a challenge. Assistive Technology (AT) devices are tools to help overcome those challenges and enable people living with disabilities to enhance and have access to a quality of life, that may otherwise not be known, and lead more independent lives.

The mission of this blog is to serve as a voice of a constant researcher in the field of educational and assistive technologies so that the best products, strategies and services may be located easily, in hopes that they will then be delivered, taught and used to better the lives of people with disabilities.


Technology as a Method for Teaching

Using Technology as a Method for Teaching -
it is NOT about Teaching Technology Any More!
Image result for technology as a teaching tool

We have had a real shift in the way we are using technology in the classrooms. We are no longer stuck in the place where we need to teach the technology- most of the kids know more than we do! Now it is time to put the technology to work for us as a tool for learning content. What an exciting time! Please take a few minutes to watch the video provided on this page, "Pay Attention" that was posted to TeacherTube. It will take a few minutes but is well worth the time.

Some technology in the classroom thoughts:

Wikipedia - there is a real power in using the Wikipedia source in your classrooms. (www.wikipedia.com)

One point that I want to point out about Wikipedia as stated on the Wikipedia site:
“The primary objective of Wikipedia is to produce a high-quality encyclopedia, and most pages are encyclopedia articles. However, given that there is no official structure policing the quality of articles, the Wikipedia community has spawned its own rules, procedures and values, which continue to evolve. Some of these values are informal and you will learn them from observing, asking, or being told by other editors. Some are formal (and their page titles are preceded by "Wikipedia:", like this page). Whilst there are rules and procedures covering everything from serious, right down to fun, a few are really important. These few are mostly common sense about respecting how Wikipedia works and what it tries to do, but also reflect the accumulated experience of hundreds of editors who are constantly learning and refining core values, which help us avoid or resolve conflicts over content, and which guide us in our constant effort to improve articles.”

As one teacher I know stated so well about warnings to students:
“There is one major warning that I would give me students when using Wikipedia as a source of information. The warning would simply be that the information in the articles cannot be fully trusted for being accurate. The reason the information cannot be fully trusted is that in theory anyone is allowed to edit the articles. One of the complaints about the editing process used by Wikipedia is that consensus is valued over credentials. In other words, if enough people agree that the information is correct then the information is considered valid and truthful. This makes me think about how a long time ago the consensus was that the world was flat, but just because most people agreed the world was flat did actually make the world flat. This problematic aspect of Wikipedia bothers me. Furthermore, it is possible that one person or a group of people could intentionally vandalize articles on Wikipedia by editing in false information. Students need to understand that the information on Wikipedia is suspect due to the editing feature. It is also important to note that the longer an article is on Wikipedia the greater the chance that the information will be valid. This is due to the fact that more people will have a chance to view the information and weed out, so to speak, information that is blatantly erroneous.”

As Wikipedia states, “, it is possible for an article on Wikipedia to be biased, outdated, or factually incorrect. This is true for any resource. One should always double-check the accuracy of important facts, regardless of the source.”

But I also want to be sure that we learn how powerful using Wikipedia can be and to understand that this format (Wikis) will probably be with us for a long time, and grow in the future, so we need to know how to embrace it and use it instead of turning our backs to the power of this unique resource.

As Wikipedia states in the section, “Beyond information from the encyclopedia, what can students learn from Wikipedia?”
“Most youths will likely at some point become involved in interactive online activities. For educators, youths' involvement with Wikipedia provides an opportunity to survey youths' understanding of online safety, and to teach appropriate practices. Educators can use Wikipedia as a way of teaching students to develop hierarchies of credibility that are essential for navigating and conducting research on the Internet.

Wikipedia provides an opportunity for teachers to discuss the concept of the public domain.

Wikipedia is an opportunity to participate in an open community that relies primarily on mutual respect and cooperation, but which is not related to familiar authority figures some youths might tend to oppose.

Editing in Wikipedia is an opportunity to learn to participate in collective editorial processes.

Wikipedia presents a ready opportunity for youths to research, compile and publish articles for peer review. For youths who contribute images, selection and production of an image provides opportunities to learn what a market wants from an artist. Youths who master skills for accurate writing and drawing about encyclopedic subjects are better equipped to develop their own style in more creative genres.”

Last, a couple of areas worth reading and becoming familiar with on the Wikipedia site:
• Instructions for teachers and lecturers
• Wikipedia: Five Pillars
• Wikipedia: Schools' FAQ

I would like to summarize this by saying: Don’t fight it, Embrace it. Use this source as a teaching exercise so that students understand more about the power of the Internet yet, beware!

Podcasts can be used on the Internet or on a portable MP3 player or iPod type of device. Students have the ability to gather information in an auditory fashion if they are auditory learners. Some students learn best this way and become distracted by other forms of stimuli. iPods are so familiar and comfortable to students- how wonderful to be able to use them in education. There are all types of podcasts available, many which would be related to their interests. Have you ever used your iTunes to explore podcasts? If not, give it a try! "Want to listen to your favorite radio shows and audio and video programs anytime? The iTunes Store offers tens of thousands of podcasts, from both big names and independent creators." Go to: www.apple.com/itunes/store/podcasts.html for more information and to play!

Wikis provide an interactive Internet experience. Interactive Internet!?! Who would have ever thought!! This is truly the way of the future for the Internet. There is no turning back. This is the way that the Internet has evolved that will change the whole look of the Internet in the future. If you do not understand the whole Wiki concept, it is time, as teachers, to do your research.

What a great way to get a class writing together. Just imagine an interactive novel created by Room 4 where the parents can be in charge of the editing... Interactive is the main point with wikis! Think: How can I design this assignment so that students can collaborate? Then think Wiki! Penpals to the extreme! Group projects with a class in England- no problem!

Or, what about Webcasting with a class in New York as visual pen pals? Now those verbal kids can really shine. Performing plays with for each other... Upper grades reading stories for children in the lower grades or resource students reading and sharing the pictures from their favorite picture book for the children in their school's M/S class...

eText becomes the most powerful with special needs when we combine it with a speech to text software. eText in this form then becomes an auditory experience. For our non-readers or low-readers it will help to open up the world of print. eText is also on-line magazines, newspapers and even full books at you fingertips. One wonderful way to use eText is to copy it, paste it into your word processor, enlarge the text, change the spacing and maybe even the color of the font for easier reading. Use the power of your MicroSoft Word to change the reading level, add definitions, adapt the vocabulary. How about using a translation program to change it into Spanish?

And yes, cell phones! It is all so exciting!!!

Technology Integration Isn't About Technology

Education Week came out with a great article by By Patrick Ledesma on May 22, 2011, entitled, "Technology Integration Isn't About Technology". Some of the lines that created a "Yes!" response from me are:
  • It's about purpose and ease of use. We should focus on enhancing and enriching the learning experience by defining the goals and processes for why and how students will use technology.  
  • If we did this, we would look beyond our current preoccupation with the appearance of just having the "latest and greatest" technology devices and pay more attention to how these resources should be used to improve the student learning experience.
  • educators become preoccupied with wanting to have the "latest and greatest" without thinking about purpose, process, and support.
  • We'll buy the devices for schools, and not think about what exactly students will do with the device or how they will use it. We'll give teachers the latest tools, but not think about the policies, time, and support they will need to use these tools effectively.
  • So before buying that technology, think about what you'll do with it, and how you'll do it.
  • Does technology enhance the quality of your life? If so, you know that technology isn't about the hardware specifications or code in the software, it's about how the use of technology has brought you more happiness because it helps you access or do something you enjoy.
Does technology enhance the quality of learning in your classroom? Do you collaborate and learn from your colleagues, share resources, and access the collective knowledge and resources on the Internet? Are your lessons more enriching and engaging through your use of interaction, multimedia, and creative authoring tools? Are your students more inquisitive, analytical, and creative as they use technology to collaborate, create, and apply their learning in real world contexts?
  • If your answer is "yes," then, you know that technology integration in schools is about the learning process, and not about technology.
  • If your answer is "no," then it's time to start thinking about why you have these tools, and how you can start using your existing resources more wisely.
Thank you, Mr. Ledesma for putting it so well!
Enjoy and explore. Your students will love you for it!