2002 Conference Proceedings

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TEACHING ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY COMPETENCIES TO SPECIAL EDUCATORS

Heather Rushmore Koren, ATP
Director of Assistive Technology Lab
Visiting Instructor
East Carolina University
117B Speight Building
Greenville, NC 27858
(252) 328-6191
korenh@mail.ecu.edu 

Courtney H. Moser
Graduate Assistant
East Carolina University
242 Speight Building
Greenville, NC 27858
(252) 328-6828
chml006@mail.ecu.edu 

Elizabeth Rooney
Graduate Assistant
East Carolina University
242 Speight Building
Greenville, NC 27858
(252) 328-4294
ear1129@mail.ecu.edu

East Carolina University's Special Education Department teaches pre-service and clinical teachers Assistive Technology Competencies in a hands-on environment. Through use of the technology lab, undergraduate students learn how to use adaptive hardware and software, work with children from the university's developmental preschool and create a technology portfolio. Graduate students learn how to carry out a hands-on informal AT assessment from information gathering, data collection, trial 'n error of equipment and software to the final report writing process, working with students with disabilities from local schools.

Competencies

The main competencies taught are taken from work done by The Council for Exception Children's Standards and Practice Standing Committee. Their 51 knowledge and skill area competencies are listed in the article, "Assistive Technology Competencies for Special Educators" (Lahm & Nickels, 1999).

In both the undergraduate and graduate level courses we cover 37 of the 51 knowledge and skill competencies that were developed for special educators. Examples of some we teach are:

Knowledge:
* Characteristics of exceptional learners that influence the use of technology (CEC-TAM 4/Lahm & Nickels)
* Procedures for evaluating computer software and other technology materials for their potential application in special education programs (CEC-TAM 18/Lahm & Nickels)

Skills:
* Design, deliver, and assess student learning activities that integrate computers/technology for a variety of student populations (CEC-TAM 20/Lahm & Nickels)
* Use electronic mail and Web browser applications for communication and for research to support instruction (CEC-TAM 43/Lahm & Nickels)

Undergraduate Technology Class

In the undergraduate class, "Technology in Special Education", students are required to build a technology portfolio made up of eight components. The assignments display many of the competencies gained during the semester. The 8 components are:

1. Technology Philosophy: Students express their own values, goals and beliefs relative to the role of technology in special education, discuss the importance of technology in the lives of persons with disabilities, and lastly express the significance of technological competence in the repertoire of today's special education teacher.

2. Software Evaluations: Each student selects three pieces of software to use and research independently. They fill out an evaluation form stating the objectives of the program along with the standard course of study objectives from their state that fit into the programs objectives, and complete a checklist looking for specific features, such as audience appeal and suitability, feedback, and ease of use.

3. Mini-Grant Proposal: The proposal format used is taken from the article, "Mini-Grant to the Rescue" (Parette, Murdick & Gartin). Students choose a child or classroom they are currently working with or have worked with in the past and then provide three components: 1) specific need of the child or classroom including a description of the technology needed; 2) benefits to the community if the technology is provided; and 3) benefits to the organization, such as a recognition ceremony, article in the local newspaper or story on a local news station. A local company or organization is chosen, with bonus point opportunities given to students for submitting their proposal (many have been funded over the years).

4. Device Demonstration: after visiting the NC Assistive Technology Project, students pick a device that is of interest. They are given one week to learn the device independently, demonstrate it and share the following information with the class: history/background information, number of hours needed to learn the device, and examples of how the device could be used in the classroom.

5. PowerPoint Presentation: Students choose a topic to research, such as 'Technology and Computer-Based IEPs: A Review of Research' or 'Technology and Writing: Supporting Success in Written Expression for Persons with Disabilities'. Students create a PowerPoint presentation on their topic to present to the class that includes a minimum of ten slides, three pieces of clipart, one sound effect and one digital photograph.

6. Lesson Plans: the requisite is three lesson plans - two using the departments lesson plan format: one must include a piece of software and the other a piece of hardware; the third lesson plan must be from the Internet and modified for the population they teach or intend to teach.

7. Web Unit: students choose a topic, write a rationale for that topic, describe their population and program (i.e., mainstreamed classroom, special education classroom, resource room), write objectives for the unit, evaluation criteria and find three web sites on their chosen topic. For each web site they must print out a sample page from the site and fill out a form stating the URL, page title, activities, and resources need for this portion of the unit. They are also required to fill out the "Web Evaluation for Secondary Grades" form (Payton).

8. Hardware and Software Competencies: Students learn how to use 17 pieces of hardware and 10 software programs. Hardware includes adaptive input devices, augmentative communication devices, environmental controls, digital cameras, and scanners. The software competencies include word prediction, text-to-speech, electronic portfolios, and language arts software.

Students in the undergraduate program are also exposed to a hands-on experience working with children from the Curriculum and Instruction Department's developmental preschool, REAP (Revolving Education Around Partnerships). The preschool children visit the lab once a month and are assigned to an undergraduate student for the semester. Before each visit, students sign up for software and/or hardware they will use with their preschooler and at the end of each visit fill out a form, briefly describing the child's performance.

Graduate Technology Class

The graduate class, "Integrating Technology into Special Education", is an in-depth version of the undergraduate class with hands-on experience. Students learn how to perform an informal assessment in AT and then apply it on a volunteer elementary or middle grades student with a disability.

During a 5-6 week period, teams of graduate students, paired with students from the public schools, gather background information, trial different software and hardware, collect data, and write a report on their findings and recommendations.

The teams use the "WATI Assessment Package" (Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative) to identify problem areas and gather background information. They meet with the parents and teachers of the child to gather pertinent information about schoolwork and the home environment.

At the end of the semester, the teams create a PowerPoint presentation discussing the steps they took to complete their informal assessment including their findings and recommendations for the student at school and at home. These presentations typically include digital photographs and videos taken during the assessment period. The report is also made available to the teachers and parents with the knowledge that it is a class project and by no means a formal AT assessment. The outcome was beneficial to the students, parents and teachers, as it was used as a guideline for using technology in the classroom and at home.

In addition to the assessment project, the graduate students are required to create a Technology Plan for their classroom or school. Some of the components they must include in their plan are:
* Recruit and Organize Planning Team
* Research: needs survey, demographic information
* Plan: goals, objectives, public relation contacts, equipment needed, implementation steps, philosophy statement, etc.

Assistive Technology Lab

The AT Lab is made up of 26 computers, Macs and PC's and a collection of adaptive equipment including: keyboards, trackballs, joysticks, digital cameras, digital camcorders, augmentative communication devices, and environmental controls. Software in the lab ranges from educational to text-to-speech to voice recognition.

Each station is setup with a binder that contains a list of competencies available at that particular station, the competency steps required and exercises to independently learn how to use the equipment or software. Graduate assistants are always available to assist students to learn the competencies when help is needed.

Once a week, the lab offers Lunch-Time Demos open to all faculty, staff and students. Each week software and/or hardware for a specific disability population (i.e. vision impairments, learning disabilities) is demonstrated. The demos last approximated 15 minutes and participants are encouraged to bring their lunches, play with the technology and ask questions.

On a monthly basis, we hold workshops and conferences in the lab, as well as give tours. The lab is also open to anyone in the community that wants to learn more about assistive technology and try out different pieces of hardware or software.

References

Lahm, E., & Nickels, B. (Sept./Oct. 1998). Assistive Technology Competencies for Special Educators. Teaching Exceptional Children, 56-63.

Parette, H., Murdick, N. & Gartin, B. (Winter, 1996). Mini-Grant to the Rescue. Teaching Exceptional Children, 20-23.

Payton, T. (1997). Web Evaluation for Secondary Grades. Retrieved September 21, 2001, from West Loogootee Elementary
Web site: http://www.siec.k12.in.us/~west/edu/rubric3.htm

Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative. (2000). WATI Assessment Package. Oshkosh, WI: Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative.


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