“What are your experiences with assistive technology, and what are some of the limitations?” When I read the blog prompt for this week, I thought “I have no experience with Assistive Technology – this oughta be fun!” However, after watching Channing, Kelsey, Jill, and Haiming’s presentation last week and doing some readings, I realized that I have more experience than I originally thought but there is still a vast world of AT out there that is waiting to be explored. Universal Design for Learning benefits not only students with specific needs – it benefits all learners. “The ultimate goal is to create a flexible instructional environment that works for all students.” (source) Where to begin? Well, if I’ve learned anything in my grad classes the last three semesters, it is that often the best people to provide answers to a question are the classmates who are living it with you. So I sat down with some popcorn and read my classmates’ blog posts to see what they are using and what they recommend.
Daniel’s post on his experiences being colour blind was fascinating. Just think of the implications of colour blindness – the resiliency and tenacity that it takes to function in our society is inspiring. Daniel’s descriptions of some of the frustrations he faced as a student and that he faces as a teacher made me think of something that happened to me during high school. I spent many days locked in a dark room during my adolescence not knowing what was going on and why the light hurt my eyes. At first the doctor thought it might be migraines. It wasn’t. Since I could go all summer without an “episode” and within a week of returning to school the headaches were recurring, we started taking a closer look at my school environment. The culprit? Fluorescent lighting – coupled with mostly white paper in my notebooks, handouts, and resources – resulted in wicked headaches. Low tech AT fix? Coloured transparencies to put over handouts or books while reading. As a result of these experiences, I am more aware of the conditions in my classroom. We never have the lights on full bright – having a dimmer switch is a bit of a necessary luxury for me! The lights in my classroom were recently changed out for a different kind and boy oh boy – it’s like being on the sun! Even on the dimmest setting the room was far brighter than my students and I were used to. A quick email off to the principal and the electrician was there within hours to adjust the lights. Little things such as the brightness of the room can affect students. I always ensure I ask students what brightness they prefer when working on different learning tasks. Most often, the answer is the same as mine. The more dim it is, the better!
The one stumbling block for implementation of any technology in the classroom is time. As Sider and Maich point out in “Assistive Technology Tools: Supporting Literacy Learning for All Learners in the Inclusive Classroom,” “Assistive technology tools are only helpful if efforts are made to implement them effectively for student use. There are numerous barriers to this, including limited training for students and teachers and limited access to technical support.” This is so true. There are many tools at our disposal as teachers, but the trick is to find the time to learn how to use them in order to tap into their potential. I feel this way about One Note. I know it can be effective – I’ve seen colleagues use it effectively – but it feels so foreign to me. Trying to find the time to wade through and try it is daunting and I end up pushing it aside as something to do “when I have time’… which, in teacher terms, likely means during the summer.
Some assistive technology that I think is/could be especially useful for me and for my students:
Translation / Language Learning Apps
Having students who are learning English as an additional language in mainstream ELA classes is a challenge, especially when they have recently arrived from other countries. My classmate, Kyle, mentioned translation apps in his blog post. I would love to see more translation apps for our newly arrived students from other language speaking areas. One tool that students could use is called HelloTalk – students can select what language they are wanting to learn and will be partnered with a native speaker of that language who wants to learn their language in return. This partnership and meaningful dialogue can be especially useful in attaining new language skills, as both users have a vested interest in making the relationship work.
Read & Write
Google Read & Write virtues were extolled by Joe in his blog and by Scott in his blog. Some of my colleagues use this daily for their students (especially those who are on personalized learning plans). I’ve used it as well, but not often. It is a tool that I plan to incorporate more fully in my teaching to enhance learning for all students and not just those who have a particular need for the tools.
Sound Field / FM systems
The single piece of AT that I use on a daily basis is my Sound Field. I have students who need it for hearing disabilities but it truly does help all listeners with their ability to hear and focus on the lesson.
By wearing the portable microphone, I can speak in a normal voice and my students have no trouble hearing me. It also saves my voice from strain which makes me a happy camper! Since I only have tiny computer speakers in my classroom, I use the mike to amplify sound when watching videos as well. I just place the microphone in front of the speakers for a more audible experience for my students.
What are your must-have assistive technologies?