1999 Conference Proceedings

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Developing Web-Based Distance-Learning Courses For The AAC Community: A First Step

Russell Thomas Cross
Prentke Romich Company
1022 Heyl Road, Wooster OH 44691
rtc@prentrom.com

Internet-based Applications in AAC

With each passing year, new applications of the Internet for individuals in the field of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) appear. Cohen and Light (1998) report on a mentoring project which took place via e-mail. It involved four young AAC users and four older, more experienced AAC users. The successful Augmentative Communication On-Line User Group (ACOLUG) Listserv (Slesaransky-Poe, Cohen and Bryen, 1998) provides an on-line forum for people involved in AAC and includes parents, professionals, AAC users, students, and others.

The ability to physically access the Internet is also an important area. Hadjadj, Bouzidi and Burger (1998) developed a non-visual Web browser for individuals with a significant visual impairment. Spaeth and Kwasniewski (1998) describe how they modified the software of a dedicated communication aid to enable the device operator, who uses a single switch with scanning, to access Internet e-mail facilities. Lindsay, McNaughton, Marshall, Baird and Guy (1998) report on BlissInternet, a piece of software that allows Bliss users to access e-mail and send Bliss messages to other Bliss users. There is also research underway to develop a symbol-based communication aid on the Web itself that can be accessed by an individual using a standard browser tool (Iwabuchi, Alm, Nakamura and Johnson, 1998).

The developing role of the Internet as a learning tool in the AAC field is also important. Hine, Harper, Beattie and Arnott (1998) describe how students with disabilities are able to participate in university-level courses at a distance. By using Web browsers, individuals can have access to materials and classes on-line. The International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ISAAC) has developed an on-line information resource that includes design features to allow people with special needs to access it (Nguyen and Treviranus, 1998). Clearly, the relevance of the Internet to the field of AAC is growing and offers many possibilities. And it is in the specific area of Distance Education that the Prentke Romich Company (PRC) is interested.

The Training Commitment

For many years, the Prentke Romich Company has been offering training to a wide range of individuals. As an international company, it provides courses world-wide on a variety of topics, ranging from specific device operations to peer-tutoring for individuals who use voice-output communication aids (VOCAs). Different groups demand different teaching methodologies and materials. Such materials include training manuals, overhead acetates, worksheets, software, and personnel.

The logistics of delivering such training packages is formidable. The field of Augmentative and Alternative Communication may seem large to those working in it, but as a proportion of the general population, those people who have a need for training courses is relatively small and geographically scattered. Thus, a major issue in offering training is gathering enough people in one location at a mutually convenient time.

Through its network of Consultants in the USA and Distributors in other countries, PRC has been providing increasingly more training to a wider audience. However, the issue of geographical dispersion continues to be problematic. So, in an effort to extend and improve training support services, PRC is investing in a new program to develop Web-based Distance-Learning courses. This is a phased project and Phase I involves the following aims:

Distance Education

In an excellent short summary, Cavalier (1998) defines and explain what distance education is. He says that distance education "...reduces - and sometimes eliminates - the barriers imposed by location, time, culture, language, and disability (p.318)". He lists five formats for distance education:

In Phase I, PRC will use a Web-based system along with an audiconference. Basically, students will attend the course using a Web browser as a visual channel and a separate telephone line for audio. In Phase II, there will be the opportunity to explore using a link where both audio and data are sent over a single line. However, the critical feature of Phase I is the development of technologies and strategies.

Summary

This paper has outlined some of the ways in which Internet technology is being used and developed to enhance the field of AAC. Then, the focus has turned to Distance Learning, and how PRC is developing a Web-based approach as part of its strategy for providing training support.

References

Cavalier, A. (1998). Distance Education for Postsecondary Students with Diverse Needs: the State of the Art and Science. Proceedings 1998 RESNA Conference, 318-320. Arlington, VA: RESNA Press.

Cohen, K. and Light, J. (1998). Facilitating Mentoring Relationships among AAC Communicators using the Internet. Proceedings ISAAC Conference 1998, Dublin.

Hadjadj, D., Bouzidi, A. and Burger, D. Making the Internet Accessible to the Visually Handicapped. Proceedings 1998 RESNA Conference, 269-271. Arlington, VA: RESNA Press.

Hine, N., Harper, G., Beattie, W. and Arnott, J.L. (1998). The LEARN-ED Distance Teaching System - Results of Use by Disabled Students. Proceedings 1998 RESNA Conference, 255-256. Arlington, VA: RESNA Press.

Iwabuchi, M., Alm, N., Nakamura, K. and Johnson, T. (1998). A Symbol-based Communication System on the Internet. Poster presentation ISAAC Conference 1998, Dublin.

Lindsay, P., McNaughton, S., Marshall, P., Baird, E. and Guy, T. (1998). BlissInternet: The New Highway for Bliss. Proceedings ISAAC Conference 1998, Dublin.

Nguyen, K. and Treviranus, J. (1998). Developing ISAAC-ONLINE: Accessible Web Delivery for Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. Proceedings ISAAC Conference 1998, Dublin.

Slesaransky-Poe, G. Cohen, K. and Bryen, D. (1998). ACOLUG: The Augmentative Communication On-Line User"s Group. Poster presentation ISAAC Conference 1998, Dublin.

Spaeth, D.M. and Kwasniewski, K.J. (1998). Thumbing a ride into Cyber space. Poster presentation ISAAC Conference 1998, Dublin.

Weller, D., Slater, J, and Lexcen, F. (1998). Video Conferencing for AAC Users. Poster presentation ISAAC Conference 1998, Dublin.


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