1999 Conference Proceedings

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LESSONS LEARNED WHEN DEVELOPING AN ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY COURSE FOR INDEPENDENT DISTANCE LEARNING

Hal L. Gritzmacher
Bemidji State University
1500 Birchmont Drive, EA 408
Bemidji, Minnesota 56601
Phone: (218) 755-4046
FAX: (218) 755-3787
E-mail: hgritzmacher@vax1.bemidji.msus.edu

Within Minnesota few teachers have the expertise required to successfully meet the assistive technology needs of students with disabilities. At the University level a need exists to provide specific information, both preservice and inservice, to teachers and students enrolled in teacher training programs about the assistive technology needs of students with disabilities. The overall objective of my project was to address this need. Being a University faculty member, it seemed that the best way for me to dissemination information about assistive technology was through a course. This course would focus on assistive technology for individuals with disabilities and would be delivered independently using concepts of distance learning.

Like most educators I was ill informed about the topic and needed assistance in the development of a course. Consequently, I contacted Ms. Kathy Schmuch, an assistive technology consultant in northern Minnesota. She agreed to help develop the course and serve as primary instructor. This is where my education really began. Not only about assistive technology for individuals with disabilities but about the reality of using technology to develop an independent course that would be delivered over distance.

The course had three components. First, rather than a textbook, a CD-ROM disk was created that contained the information pertinent to the course. The disk addressed background information on assistive technology and the major topics of environmental control devices; simple augmentative communication devices; switches, modules, and mounting systems; computer adapted input devices; and special needs software. Second, a discuss platform using e-mail was developed on which students could interact regarding the content of the disk. Finally, students would be required to surf the Internet to locate current information about assistive technology and disabilities.

At the time of writing this paper, the CD-ROM had been completed but the course was just being offered for the first time and consequently no feedback exists regarding the e-mail or internet portion of the course. By the conference information should be available regarding these.

As a result of the development of this course I realized how fast technology is growing. This experience reaffirmed the idea that technology is growing faster than society and even the Universities can keep up with. This may seem rather simplistic, but it probably is the source of most of my frustration with this project. The people I worked with were great, and they were always willing to try and help. But time and time again problems arose that were no ones fault. The knowledge about technology was accumulating faster than people could digest.

My presentation will provide many specific examples of problems that I encountered that may help other individuals who are thinking of pursuing a similar project. Unfortunately, I do not have any solutions to the problems. But I think an understand of what you will encounter my help alleviate some of the frustration that can occur.

For example, money and resources did not seem to be an issue. Although not plentiful, the University always seemed to be able to provide me with the resources I needed. However, the human resource element was different. At our University few professionals are available that are truly knowledgeable about technology and students are utilized to provide assistance on technology projects. When needed, it was very difficult to access these professionals because of the demand on their time. The project sometimes was halted while the student tried to 'find' the professional to help solve a problem. As I became more knowledgeable about the technology, I became less dependent on the students and professionals. Not only did this allow me to gain greater control of my project and facilitate it in a more timely manner, but it alleviated some of my frustration.

In addition, there is a lack of accepted practices or formalized procedures regarding technology at the University. On a number of occasions I was told that the University had not encountered my problem before and consequently did not know how to respond. For example, the University was very concerned about copyright issues. At a workshop on copyright issues I asked for a sample of a copyright agreement that I could use as a model for the release of some pictures that I wanted to use with my project. The presenter indicated that samples were included in the handouts. Upon reviewing them, none of them were remotely close to what I needed. When I asked the presenter later, he indicated that I should create my own and give it to the University for approval.

Although some of the problems I encountered were unique to my institution, conversations with other professionals at other institutions confirm that most of these problems are universal. I would encourage others to pursue similar projects but caution them that Universities are having a hard time keeping up with technology.


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