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THE CONNSENSE BULLETIN IS ONLINE: TECHNOLOGY SOLVED THE PROBLEM

Chauncy N. Rucker The A. J. Pappanikou Center: A UAP, University of Connecticut, 249 Glenbrook Road, U-64, Storrs, CT 06269-2064, (860)423-7880, rucker@uconnvm.uconn.edu


Although the purpose of this presentation is to announce the online version of the ConnSENSE Bulletin, I'd like to spend much of my time explaining how the move to the web came about. This will be followed by an explanation of the site, how we review software, and how you can become involved.

The ConnSENSE Project

The ConnSENSE (Connecticut Special Education Network for Software Evaluation) Project was funded by the Connecticut State Department of Education to develop a statewide model for evaluating software for students with disabilities. Beginning in 1982 the project developed a software evaluation instrument and trained professionals (mainly special education teachers) to evaluate software. We put together a collection of software and would then send pieces out to our reviewers. Once we received the review and the software back from a reviewer it was sent on to another reviewer. When we had received reviews back from three reviewers the staff wrote a review based on input from all three of the reviews and it would be published in the ConnSENSE Bulletin. The ConnSENSE review process was very comprehensive, but was also very labor intensive and time consuming. It was difficult to be current with our reviews.

The ConnSENSE Project was among a fairly small group of projects reviewing software for students with disabilities. ConnSENSE reviews were selected to be included in the Only The Best. Only The Best is an ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) annual publication and database that gathers reviews from about 25 evaluators throughout the country. Software listed in the book has been evaluated as excellent by at least two of the evaluators.

In addition to the software reviews, each ConnSENSE Bulletin contained articles, resources, information on our annual conference, and a calendar of other technology conferences. The Bulletin was printed and mailed out to as many as 3,000 subscribers. The ConnSENSE conferences and our graduate program in assistive technology continue to this day, but after more than 10 years the ConnSENSE Bulletin was discontinued because we simply did not have the funds to cover the expense of printing and postage.

Way Cool Software Reviews Project

Although the ConnSENSE Bulletin was hibernating, our summer courses in assistive technology were still going strong. This was very fortunate for us because a group of our graduate students taking an Internet course during the summer of 1995 came up with the Way Cool Software Reviews Project. The project is designed to encourage students, teachers, other professionals and parents to write reviews of software they use at school or at home that they think is way cool. Although all reviews are welcome, we are particularly interested in software that would be useful for those with disabilities or students with gifts. These reviews are then published on the Way Cool List and the Way Cool web site.

The Way Cool Software review process is much less formal than was implemented with the ConnSENSE Project. We collect software, publicize what software we have on the Way Cool List, and send the software to someone who responds to the offer. Although we do have a basic evaluation form, we do not insist that reviewers follow it exactly. Once we receive a review we edit it so that the format of the reviews is fairly similar, and put the review on the list. In addition to software we have on hand, many people have submitted reviews of software they already own. This certainly expands our collection of reviews.

The Way Cool List

Lists (managed by Listserv software) provide a great opportunity to interact on a particular topic. On the Way Cool List, subscribers discuss software issues and ask questions about the software reviews. All reviews are first published on the list so that people can add comments before we publish them on the Web. Fortunately, several publishers have joined the list. Thus, for example, when a subscriber asked a question based on reviews of Menlo the Frog, a technical person from the company was quick to respond with an answer to the list. This interaction between software publishers and software users is seen as a very positive feature of the Way Cool Software Reviews Project.

The Way Cool Web Site

The Way Cool web site provides links to all of the software reviews, information on the Way Cool Project, including a copy of the evaluation form, and links to related projects. Many of the reviews of commercial software contain links to publishers' home pages where more information is provided. There are also reviews of shareware and these provide links so that you can download the shareware. You can visit the Way Cool site and view all of the reviews. http://www.pappanikou.edu/wcool.html

A Great Idea

After seeing the success of the Way Cool Software Reviews Project, I began to think that perhaps the web offered an opportunity to begin publishing the ConnSENSE Bulletin again. Certainly there were a number of projects having to do with disabilities taking advantage of the web. One of the most successful is LD Resources hosted by Richard Wanderman. http://www.ldresources.com In addition to the web site, Richard sends out and an Email newsletter on a somewhat irregular basis to the Learning Disabilities community. The LD Reader contains interesting articles, resources, and observations and updates the readers on recent additions to the web site. This is a great model, but in addition to me borrowing the model, Richard gave hours and hours of advice as I began to develop the ConnSENSE Bulletin web site and the first ConnSENSE Letter. The web site was operational early in 1999 and ConnSENSE Letter #1 went out early in February. The web site means that the ConnSENSE Bulletin can be published without the expense of printing or postage. In fact, since the A. J. Pappanikou Center sponsors us, everything about the site and the Letter is free to the public.

ConnSENSE Reviews

Based on our early experience it appeared that attempting to utilize the original ConnSENSE review process would be too cumbersome. We also had the experience of the Way Cool Software Reviews Project to draw on. The Way Cool software review procedure certainly works, but we wanted to end up with reviews that would be recognized by Only The Best. Ultimately we decided to continue the Way Cool review process, publish the reviews on the Way Cool List and the Way Cool Web Site, but only publish these reviews in the ConnSENSE Bulletin if they met a more stringent criterion. To be a ConnSENSE Bulletin Review the review (a) should concern software that could be of value to individuals with disabilities or are gifted, (b) must have been completed by a professional in the disability or gifted area, (c) hopefully includes feedback on use with students, and (d) must have been edited for consistency by ConnSENSE Bulletin staff. I must admit that we have on occasion published a review that didn't meet all four criteria, simply because they were deemed so worthwhile.

ConnSENSE Bulletin Web Site and the ConnSENSE Letter

The ConnSENSE Bulletin Web site contains articles, resources, updates on Washington activities, job announcements, ConnSENSE software reviews, related sites, and a conference calendar. There is also a form so you can sign up to receive the ConnSENSE Letter and an archive of previous letters. The ConnSENSE Letter is sent via Email on an irregular basis, approximately once a month. It updates all the new additions to the web site.

How can you become involved?

You can visit the ConnSENSE Bulletin web site and sign up to receive the ConnSENSE Letter. http://www.pappanikou.uconn.edu/csbull.html We welcome articles (perhaps your technology success stories), resources, job opportunities, information on conferences, etc. Send me your input and I would be glad to share it with the readers of the ConnSENSE Bulletin.

Another important way to contribute is by reviewing software. If you'd like to review software we would encourage you to subscribe to the Way Cool list, check out the reviews on the Way Cool web site, and send us a review of software (a) you own and you think is way cool, or (b) that you see on the Way Cool list and choose to review for us. Incidentally, when you write a review of our software you are allowed to keep the software.

You could also encourage students to submit reviews of software. We have several cases in which students have contributed reviews that were then published on the Way Cool list and the Way Cool web site.

Everyone is welcome to send a review to add to the list. If it meets the ConnSENSE criteria, the review will also be published on the ConnSENSE Bulletin web site. To subscribe to the Way Cool list, send this one line message: subscribe waycool-L Yourfirstname Yourlastname to: listserv@UConnvm.uconn.edu

Conclusion

So indeed the ConnSENSE Bulletin is now available online. The technology of lists and the World Wide Web helped us solve our earlier publication problems. Please spread the word. We would encourage everyone interested in technology for individuals with disabilities to subscribe to the ConnSENSE Letter and the Way Cool List, utilize the ConnSENSE and Way Cool web sites, and submit articles, resources, and reviews.

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