2001 Conference Proceedings

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Web-Based Learning: Assistive Technology Training Online Project

Susan Mistrett
University at Buffalo
515 Kimball Tower
Buffalo, NY 14214
(716) 829-3141, ext. 155

As students of all abilities are learning together in increasing numbers in public schools, the use of technology as an instructional, learning and supplementary aid is changing the way teachers teach and children learn. Although computer technology is increasingly available, students with disabilities, especially those in inclusive education programs, often cannot access it or lack appropriate training to benefit fully from technological innovations to educational programs. Assistive Technology (AT) can help. Both low and high-tech devices are available that can provide access to the general curriculum for students with disabilities. In fact, when computer technology is accessed with assistive devices, this frequently provides the only means for students with disabilities to independently achieve educational goals. However, this independence is strongly related to the knowledge and information levels of the parents, therapists and educators on the student's IEP team. Unless these individuals are trained, the effective use of assistive technology (AT) and its potential will remain unused.

A federally funded grant, the Assistive Technology Training Online (ATTO)Project (DOE/OSERS, Grant # H324M980014), looks to address AT training needs by constructing a series of web-based workshops to address the diverse, multi-level needs for AT training while exploring the potential of web-based instruction on the Internet. The workshops focus on the use of AT, primarily adaptive computer technology, to facilitate the educational process and provide inclusion strategies for students with disabilities in inclusive elementary (K-5) classrooms. Workshop materials developed and used by staff at the University at Buffalo's Center for Assistive Technology provide the foundation of the training. The workshops deliver proven training modules, reach a wider number of individuals and provide information in accessible ways that can be tailored to the individuals' learning needs.

Training Needs and Limitations

Recent literature advocates teacher preparation and on-going technical assistance (Lipsky & Gartner, 1996; Wolpert, 1996) to support the inclusion of students with disabilities in general education classrooms. Although the use of AT in classrooms is increasing (Male 1997), the lack of awareness and the lack of training continue to act as major barriers to professionals using AT (Izen & Brown, 1991; MacGregor & Pachuski, 1996; Thorkildsen, 1994). Recent studies conclude (CEC Today, 1997) there is a lack of training and technical assistance both in the operation and integration of the technology into the curriculum, a lack of computer access due to compatibility of old and new technologies, and a lack of access to appropriate and specialized software for severely disabled students. With more children with disabilities entering inclusive educational settings, general education personnel look to special education and related services personnel for alternate means of access and learning.

Information must be made available to professionals and family members on the use of AT applications for students. In a survey of special education teachers on classroom AT use, Derer, Polsgrove and Rieth (1996) found that although 80% of the respondents had received some sort of training, 51% of the group reported that few of their training needs were being met. This represents a substantial proportion of professionals who lack adequate skills to use AT in the classroom.

How training is presented impacts its effectiveness. A single format cannot provide the information and skills necessary to use AT; multiple leveled training has been found to be more effective in providing a broader range of material and skill acquisition (Dere et. al, 1996; Hammel & Smith, 1993). AT training issues mirror those of general technology training. To implement AT, one must first be comfortable with standard computer input and output methods, before recognizing the need for adaptations. AT represents a highly specialized form of adaptation; requiring the acquisition of specialized skills to enable a student to realize the benefits of AT in the context of the classroom (McGregor & Pachuski, 1996).

The most pervasive form of training and education in our country has been the site-based, instructor led model. It remains an effective method for teaching, learning and interacting for discussions, collaborating and fielding questions. However, it also requires that trainee and instructors be in the same physical location, with the instructor determining the focus of the education, how it will be presented (sequence and time) and the type of expected trainee response. This design restricts the flexibility of what and how information is offered, is expensive as it includes a limited number of individuals in a single location and is confined in its ability to customize the instruction.

Web-Based Training: A Solution

Challenges arise as we attempt to develop this new training medium. How much or how little information is best to present? How can we simulate the best features of face-to-face training and offer multiple levels of information in ways that make the most sense to a group of diverse learners? How do we insure that the training is relevant? Can this be evaluated?

We are struggling with many of these questions as we continue to assess how to effectively take tried-and-true training information to this new learning. To address the widespread training needs for AT information, traditional training methods must be re-designed to meet the needs of a large number of individual learners, having different levels of experience and competence. In the ATTO training, the user can select the level of information they want and review it as frequently as needed, at the time, place and pace that they choose. Training modules will be offered at several levels:

Awareness: Nineteen modules provide overview information on various aspects of AT use with elementary students with disabilities. They are designed to provide foundational information to be used by individuals or within related training curricula, college courses or school district workshops. Technical Skills: Step-by-step tutorials are provided on how to use specific hardware devices and software programs with students with disabilities. Users must know how a device or program works- its features and options - before it can be applied to a student. Facilitated Guidance exercises offer opportunities to practice and master new skills.

Applied Knowledge: Application of the technical information to actual student case studies is supported through this web-training. Advanced users employ a problem solving approach to customize AT devices and software for specific Case Studies. ATTO staff are available through email for review of solutions and feedback.

Resources: Hundreds of resources are available through this site to assist students, families and school district personnel find solutions to using AT to improve participation and independence of students with disabilities.

By combining proven training materials with interactive and inter-connective properties of the Internet, we look to enhance traditional AT training workshops by improving training access and application. Parents, students and IEP teams must work together to implement tools that will give all children access to the general curriculum.


CEC Today. (1997). Technology is underused in special education. CEC Today, 4(1), 1, 5, 15.

Derer, K., Polsgrove, L., & Rieth, H. (1996). A survey of assistive technology applications in schools and recommendations for practice. Journal of Special Education Technology, 13(2), 62-80.

Hammel, J.M. & Smith, R.O. (1993). The development of technology competencies and training guidelines for occupational therapists. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 47(11), 970-979.

Izen, C.L., & Brown, F. (1991). Education and treatment needs of students with profound, multiply handicapping, and medically fragile conditions: A survey of teacher's perceptions. Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps, 16, 94-103.

Lipsky, D., & Gartner, A. (1996). Inclusion, school restructuring and the remaking of American society. Harvard Educational Review, 66(4), 762-796.

Male, M. (1997). Technology for inclusion. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

McGregor, G., & Pachuski, P. (1996). Assistive technology in schools: Are teachers ready, able and supported. Journal of Special Education Technology, 13(1), 4-15.

Thorkildsen, R. (1994). Research synthesis on quality and availability of assistive technology devices. Technical Report No. 7. ED386855. 104p.

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