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Mary Sweig Wilson, Ph.D.
Laureate Learning Systems, Inc.
First Words, First Words II, and First Verbs Sterling Editions are computer-administered tutorial programs that train a receptive vocabulary of 100 nouns and 50 verbs. They are designed for use by people with diverse abilities, including very young children with special needs and adults with developmental disabilities. All three titles feature Optimized Intervention and the Sterling Administration System.
Optimized Intervention: The most efficient and effective way to train early developing vocabulary with these programs is to use Optimized Intervention. When this option is selected, the program uses artificial intelligence methodology to monitor student performance and adjust program variables accordingly. In particular, the Optimized Intervention system (a) assesses whether or not a student knows a word, (b) maintains the focus of training on words that have not yet been learned while setting aside material that has already been mastered, and (c) adjusts the level of instructional support used with each word based on past performance. Optimized Intervention starts by probe testing the client to determine the initial words for training (vocabulary is tested in a developmental order). Once the student has failed to correctly identify five words, training begins. The beginning instructional level is determined by the number of words tested to obtain the five training items. For example, a client or student who successfully demonstrates knowledge of a large number of items will start at a higher level than a student who has not correctly identified any words.
The instructional strategies utilized in Optimized Intervention differ from the "set criterion" approach widely used at present in that they entail (a) response-by-response monitoring of student performance, (b) continual and stimulus-specific management of instructional supports, and (c) comprehensive data collection and analysis leading to prescriptive recommendations. The fundamental logic of these optimized instructional strategies was inspired by systems developed by the Software Technology Branch of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and formally transferred to Laureate under a Space Act Technology Transfer Agreement. Utilizing Optimized Intervention strategies means that children and adults with language impairments receive the amount of instructional support during each stimulus presentation that their antecedent performance reveals is appropriate. Prompts are faded following correct responses and reintroduced if errors are occurring.
Once a student is responding at higher levels (with less instructional support), the simple reinforcement routines are replaced with language enriched reinforcement skits. These skits feature the engaging character Zot together with his family and pets. The routines provide examples of the target material in diverse language contexts. In the case of First Verbs Sterling Edition, this means introducing a range of verb morphology. Following a correct choice of the verb "painting," for example, the reinforcement routine models the forms "will paint","likes to paint," and "painted" in an amusing skit. As students master words, new ones are probed and introduced into training.
Additional Instructional Activities: In addition to the Optimized Intervention option, all three programs also offer Training by Level for those who chose to train words using a fixed level of instructional support. Training by Level optionally features one or two pictures on the screen, antecedent instruction, and cueing to the correct response. Other options provide for the selection of simple or enriched reinforcement animations, a plain or scenic background, and text display.
Several Supplemental Activities are included in the programs as well. A Word Introduction and word Slide Show provide appropriate introductory activities: pictures are presented and any input causes the computer to identify the word and show an animation. For more advanced students or if the programs are being used as a reward, an opportunity to review the Zot Routines may be appropriate. Finally, there is a Testing activity in which two words appear and the student is asked to identify the target without instructional support. Testing is useful for documenting pre- and post-intervention performance data.
In addition to Optimized Intervention, all Sterling Edition programs include the Sterling Administration System which features extensive data collection, analysis, and reporting capabilities.
The Sterling Administration System: The Sterling Administration System provides a set of tools that commands all aspects of intervention and data management. A central interface distinguishes all new Sterling Editions from earlier Laureate programs. With the Sterling Administration System, you can easily build and maintain student files, individualize program settings, analyze performance data, and write reports. The Sterling Administration System features organizational capabilities such as the ability to establish separate speech-language pathologist and special educator student groups, include information in a student file to facilitate reporting, and a Report Writer designed to provide either brief or comprehensive reports that summarize student performance over time. The Sterling Administration System will help clinicians, special educators, diagnosticians, and researchers alike document student performance.
Currently speech-language pathologists and special educators face particular problems assessing the performance and potential of children and adults with significant disabilities. Assistive technology has enabled these people to use programs that previously had been inaccessible. While many tutorial software programs can now be used by persons with severe disabilities (usually with the assistance of a paraprofessional), only the most rudimentary of response data is collected and reported. Consequently, practitioners must hand collect information critical to assessing program effectiveness, documenting student progress, and making programmatic decisions. With time demands on busy professionals, this frequently means that performance variables are noted only anecdotally and not documented. Increasingly, however, professionals are being asked to be accountable by providing student performance data. The Sterling Administration System addresses these issues as well as the overall management concerns of delivering computer-assisted instructional programs.
All Sterling Edition programs provide extensive data collection, analysis, and reporting capabilities as well as the option of exporting data into a spreadsheet, which can then be interpreted for alternative assessment or research purposes. The Sterling Administration System can easily provide information such as side of screen bias, response time variability linked to stimuli, and patterns of response based on level of instructional support.
An especially valuable component of the Sterling Administration System is the Report Writer which features (a) built-in report templates that generate either brief or detailed reports, (b) custom report templates that generate either brief or detailed reports, (c) multiple student reports that generate similar reports for groups of students, and (d) the ability to export data to a spreadsheet for further data analysis and graphing. With consolidated student management, extensive data collection, and powerful new report-writing options, the Sterling Administration System makes it easier than ever to document student progress and ensure accountability.
First Words, First Words II, and First Verbs are the first Sterling Edition programs Laureate has released. Over the years to come, they will be joined by others that will operate under the Sterling Administration System. That means that all programs will share a central management system bringing integrated learning systems capabilities to stand alone systems. These new programs will also feature Optimized Intervention where appropriate. Sterling Editions will provide clinicians and special educators new tools that will help improve the delivery of service to persons with disabilities.
The research for this paper was partially supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (# R43DC02709-01, #R44HD35255-02, #R43DC02601, and #R44DC02601-02).
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