2002 Conference Proceedings

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PROJECT MEET: USING RESEARCH TO INCREASE GENERAL EDUCATORS' USE OF ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY

Presenter: Sue Cusack,
susan.cusack@tch.harvard.edu, 617 355-8457

Introduction

Project MEET (Massachusetts Empowering Educators with Technology) represents a hypothesis about how to best integrate technology into the curriculum, a process that has emerged as a nationwide educational challenge. The following is a discussion about the project's use of formative research data to increase the efficacy of teacher training in the use of integration of the principles of universal design and assistive technology.

Background

Project MEET is a Massachusetts initiative, one of 20 projects nationwide, that is funded through the federal Technology Innovation Challenge Grant (1998-2003). The project's technology focus has been on the use of on-line technology for teaching and learning. Further emphasis was placed on the development of standards-based curriculum and instructional strategies that are responsive to the needs of diverse learners, with particular attention given to the integration of concepts of universal design in education and the use of assistive technology. The project uses a three-tiered systemic approach that weaves teaching, support, and policy into a comprehensive technology professional development model. In the teaching strand, teams of teachers are trained by the WGBH Teacher Center (www.wgbh.org) in the use of technology as a tool to strengthen their curriculum and raise the achievement of ALL students. The support strand is defined by the development of leadership, curriculum integration and planning skills of technology professional development (TPD) specialists, who will support the teacher teams. This strand is supported by TERC (www.terc.edu). And the policy strand, led Mass Networks Education Partnership (www.massnetworks.org) addresses administrative concerns through the identification of policy issues raised by technology. The focus on diverse learners is supported by CAST (www.cast.org), the Institute for Community Inclusion (www.childrenshospital.org/ici), and one school partner, the New England Adolescent Research Institute (NEARI). Other partners who play a critical role in the project include four urban districts (Chicopee, Lowell, Pittsfield, Springfield) and the Mass Department of Education. These schools are active for the duration of the project, serving a valuable role as research and development sites and advisors to the partner organizations responsible for training. The project, now in its third year, has worked actively with 79 schools in 47 districts across the state. Five of the school districts are members of the partner organization while the balance of school districts represent associate sites who are brought into the project through a competitive grant process through the state's Technology Literacy Challenge Fund grant program.

The Research Model

A critical component of the project is research and evaluation. In general terms, the purpose of the research and evaluation effort has been to assess the progress of the project, then report back to stakeholders so that they may make adjustments to render the project more effective. This process is called formative evaluation. In order to do this effectively, several preliminary steps have been necessary. The Project partners need to work to clarify their goals and objectives for the Project. The research and evaluation component seeks to provide partners with the kind of information they need in order to optimize their interventions. When the partners have a better understanding of how the intended beneficiaries of the interventions view and experience the interventions, then the partners can better tailor their efforts to the real needs of the educators they intend to serve.

The Problem

As evidenced by research findings at the end of year two, the ideas contained in the concept of Universal Design (meeting the needs of all learners) and Assistive Technology (making the curriculum accessible to all learners) seem to be an integral part of the project's theoretical model of teaching and learning. However, strengthening the place of UD and AT in the training of teachers and TPDs seems warranted given the frequency with which shortcomings in this area were mentioned in the evaluation reports of the various teaching, support, and policy strands. (http://meet.terc.edu/public/research/research.cfm) For example, only 26% of teachers reported after the 2000 summer teacher institutes that they believed equity of access to the curriculum (assistive technology and universal design) were important considerations when planning technology-integrated lessons for their students. It was further reported that teachers do think about the ideas of Universal Design, but the researchers saw few instances of its use in their classroom observations. This finding was further supported by TPD logs where all TPDs reported working with teachers around content and technology skills, most (69%) worked with teachers on pedagogy and (62%) on the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks, but fewer TPDs reported working with teachers around assessment (46%) or Universal Design and Assistive Technology (39%).

The Solution

In response to these discouraging findings, it is recommended that an explicit model of teaching and learning be used to frame the Project MEET professional development institutes and all subsequent training, and that this model include clear ideas for how to incorporate the following:
* The Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks
* The ideas of Universal Design and Assistive Technology
* What are best practices regarding technology integration
* How technology integration can support higher order thinking
* Improve the coordination and mutual alignment of the Teacher Institute and the TPD Institute

These recommendations served as a catalyst to sharpen the focus on the project's training goals and objectives. The partner organizations, including representatives from school districts and the Massachusetts Department of Education, met on a regular basis to review, refine, and align the design of the TPD and Teacher Summer Institutes. Specific refinements to these institute curricula included clarifying and distinguishing the learning objective for TPDs and Teachers, ensuring that new technology, curriculum development and instructional strategy skills were modeled in all workshop activities, and integrating Universal Design and Assistive Technology across learning activities.

The alignment of the TPD and Teacher Institutes ensured continuity of message and increased recognition of the project's commitment to meeting the needs of all learners. TPDs were trained to support teachers by identifying assistive technology resources at a local, state, and federal level. Teachers were given supplemental materials in the form of a Technology Tool Kit containing low-tech resources, demo disks, and freeware application. Teachers were also asked to integrate supports to facilitate the inclusion of a student with a high incident disability (e.g., ADHD, learning disability) and a student with a low incident disability (e.g., cognitive or severe physical disability) into their online projects. Training was offered to administrators in the systemic considerations needed to support Universal Design as well as the full range of technology, including assistive technology. Activities that helped to drive home this message included hands-on training with tools like eReader, a supported text-to-speech reading environment provided at no cost to all participating districts.

The Outcomes

As a result of these efforts, the following summer's Teacher Institutes included a particular focus on meeting the needs of all learners through Universal Design for Learning and Assistive Technology. Teacher responses to the open-ended pre-institute and post-institute survey question about their planning of units of instruction clearly demonstrates teachers' increased awareness of the importance of considering the needs of all learners

From preliminary analysis of the summer teacher institutes, 2001, the Pre- and Post-Institute question was: Teachers think about a number of issues when they plan a unit of instruction for their students. Please describe what issues you typically consider as more important than others when planning a unit of instruction.

This open-ended prompt is designed to elicit from the teachers that they believe to be the most important factors to consider when they plan technology-integrated lessons. In contrast to the teachers' responses at the previous summer's institutes, where only 26% of the teachers listed meeting the needs of all learners through universal design and assistive technology as important factors in their lesson planning, after the 2001 institutes 68% of teachers listed meeting the needs of all learners as an important consideration. In fact, the next most frequently-mentioned factor in designing lessons was aligning them to the MA Curriculum Frameworks (36% of teachers). Clearly the revised training during the 2001 institutes had a much stronger impact on the teachers' thinking about the needs of all learners.

Future Steps

The increased awareness by teachers can be attributed to the partner response to recommendations derived from a formative evaluation process. More data will be collected during the winter to determine whether this increase in teacher awareness is reflected in classroom-based activities. Project partners are gearing up to continue refining the professional development model and will utilize any new findings identified during this research process.


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