2002 Conference Proceedings

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Two Online Certificate Programs in Assistive Technology and Accessible Information Technology

Libby Cohen
University of Southern Maine
lcohen@usm.maine.edu 

Walter Kimball
University of Southern Maine
wkimball@usm.maine.edu 

Elizabeth Coombs
EASI (Equal access to Software and Information)
PO Box 818
Lake Forest CA 92609
Beth@easi.cc 

Norman Coombs
EASI (Equal access to Software and Information)
PO Box 818
Lake Forest CA 92609
Nrcgsh@rit.edu

Abstract:

The University of Southern Maine (USM), responding to the spread of technology in education, has established the online Virtual Assistive Technology University (VATU) to train primarily K-12 educators on a vast array of assistive technologies to empower students with disabilities. USM and EASI (Equal Access to Software and Information) have also partnered to provide a Certificate in Accessible Information Technology aimed primarily at Colleges, universities and libraries covering such topics as: onsite information technology, web design, e-learning, multimedia learning disability technologies and a train the trainer course.

Introduction:

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, educational technology is spreading like wildfire through education all the way from the primary grades into graduate and professional schools. At the same time, there is a rapidly growing array of assistive and adaptive technologies to facilitate education for students with disabilities. Many schools, teachers and staff are still scrambling to keep current with these new technologies. Because educational technology has become so pervasive, students with disabilities will be further disabled unless they are provided with this technology and with adequate training on its uses.

These two certificate programs are unique because they are given entirely online and can be taken from anywhere at anytime. This feature has two major advantages. First, the student does not have to give up a couple weeks tie to participate. The courses are mainly asynchronous and permits people from very different time zones to all interact without any scheduling difficulties. Second, the participant do not have to expend large sums for travel, room and board besides tuition fees. Both programs provide both a certificate and continuing education units.

Virtual Assistive Technology University (VATU):

Virtual Assistive Technology University (VATU) is an online certificate program in assistive technology for educators. VATU is being developed through a Personnel Preparation grant awarded by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). The certificate is seven courses; offered for both academic credit and continuing education credit. The certificate begins with a course titled Introduction to Learning Technologies for Students with Disabilities. This course provides an overview of assistive technology device and strategies, pertinent legislation, web accessibility issues, and AT assessment. The certificate ends with a seminar titled Seminar on Integrating Technology Into Educational Programs. In this capstone course, participants apply their accumulated knowledge and skills in their own classrooms and design consultation or professional development strategies for sharing their assistive technology expertise with colleagues. The following five courses in between offer training in different aspects of assistive technology:

Web Accessibility and Interactivity: Making websites accessible through clear design of visuals and content, e.g., text descriptions of graphics, and through use of applications such as screen readers and Alt-Tags.

Universal Design in Education: Access to the General Education Curriculum: Designing a learning environment helpful to students with a range of abilities through technology, curriculum, instruction, and physical setting.

Using Assistive Technology for Educating Students with Low Incidence Disabilities: Facilitating inclusion by devices and strategies which allow students with cerebral palsy, multiple disabilities, and other more severe needs access to a greater range of learning materials.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication: Learning about communication devices and how to evaluate AAC systems based on student needs and environmental outcomes

Assistive Technology Evaluation: Conducting AT evaluations through interdisciplinary teams.

The primary objectives of the grant are twofold: develop high quality training in assistive technology and study how online learning can be used as the format for the training. This presentation will provide a brief overview of the certificate and then examine each of these objectives.

A test of high quality training in assistive technology is the extent to which participants understand assistive technology and the extent to which they use assistive technology. For most of the people in the beginning certificate courses, assistive technology is a new concept. How the format and structure of the certificate is designed to present a clear picture of assistive technology and the variety of devices and strategies available will be explained. Student work from the courses will be used as illustrations and evidence of the challenges and successes of the first year of the certificate.

For the second objective of studying online learning, the presentation will include how interaction between students in discussions and in projects is emphasized. It is not the intent of VATU to develop an electronic correspondence course where participants only exchange a series of assignments with the instructor. In addition, the use of online learning permits the modeling or demonstration of the devices and strategies being studied, for example, downloading a screen reader, trying it, and then reflecting with other participants about its advantages and disadvantages. Another example is the use of captioned streaming video through the web. The use of online learning permits the demonstration of how assistive technology devices and applications are used to make learning accessible. The project is committed in its courses to using only accessible applications, therefore, chat is not available as it is not yet accessible. The challenges and successes of demonstrating assistive technology applications via the web and of emphasizing group work and discussions will be addressed in the presentation.

EASI/USM Certificate In Accessible Information Technology:

EASI, (Equal Access to Software and Information), has been spreading information about accessible computer and information technology to colleges and universities for nearly fifteen years. We are committed to the premise that students and faculty with disabilities have the same right to access information as anyone else. EASI has made presentations at conferences and on campuses and, for the past eight years, has also been using the Internet to take this information to schools and colleges across the country and to more than three dozen other countries. EASI is the premiere provider of online training on accessible information technology, but, now with the benefit of a partnership with the University of Southern Maine, these courses have now been packaged into a Certificate in Accessible Information Technology: http://easi.cc/workshops/certificate.htm. Anyone taking five of EASI's courses can earn this certificate. Presently, people can choose five courses from the following list:

1. Barrier-free Information Technolog,y which focuses on providing access to onsite computer and information technology;

2. Barrier-free Web Design, which provides a broad overview to designing web pages for accessibility good for designers with limited technical background;

3. Advanced Barrier-free Web Design, which deals with more advanced and sophisticated web elements such as multimedia, forms, tables, and various scripts;

4. Barrier-free E-learning, which deals both with accessible e-learning course and preparing accessible content for online courses;

5. Accessible Multimedia, which deals with making streaming media, audio, video, narrated PowerPoint, Flash and other media accessible;

6. Adaptive technology and learning disabilities, which deals with both low and high tech technologies that assist people with learning disabilities function more efficiently in work and school;

7. Train the trainer, which deals with training teachers who will need to instruct people to use an array of adaptive software packages but who will not be required to be power users but who need to have an overview of several systems.

People frequently charge that e-learning is too impersonal and that it cannot replicate the experience of being in a room with the instructor to watch hands-on demonstrations. These courses endeavor to overcome both charges. All courses have a significant interactive component. The instructors actively interact both with the class as a group and with individual participants. All courses either use a listserv discussion or courseware discussion boards. Not only does this promote interaction between teacher and students, but it encourages interaction between class members. EASI firmly believes that students learn as much from one another as from the instructor.

In the last few years, EASI is making ever increasing uses of streaming multimedia in its dissemination activities and in its courses. Captioned, streaming video is one way to permit a remote participant to watch a software demonstration. There are other software packages that permit capturing events happening on the instructor's monitor and also permit the instructor to use simultaneous audio to explain what is happening. Again, the student can watch what the instructor is demonstrating while the teacher explains the demonstration.

EASI is thankful for the close support that we have had from the University of Southern Maine in a number of ventures, and we greatly appreciate their supporting our courses by joining with us to provide this Certificate In Accessible Information Technology. Course information is on the web at http://easi.cc/workshop.htm.

Conclusion:

Computer and information technology is penetrating every level of education whether for better or worse. One result of this is that educators are waking up to the necessity of providing adaptive technology as an access ramp to educational technology. Awareness and interest has increased rapidly in recent years, but it is difficult to know how to provide this information to all the faculty, staff and administrators who need it. These two online certificate programs are important ventures to fill this void in an anytime anywhere delivery format.


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