2002 Conference Proceedings

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VIRTUAL ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY UNIVERSITY (VATU): EFFECTIVE ONLINE LEARNING MATERIALS AND STRATEGIES

Walter Kimball
University of Southern Maine
301C Bailey Hall
Gorham, ME 04038
Voice: (207) 780-5082
FAX: (207) 780-5224
wkimball@usm.maine.edu 

Cynthia Curry
University of Southern Maine
301C Bailey Hall
Gorham, ME 04038
Voice: (207) 228-8141
FAX: (207) 780-5224
ccurry@usm.maine.edu 

Dan Chaimowitz
University of Southern Maine
301C Bailey Hall
Gorham, ME 04038
Voice: (207) 228-8379
FAX: (207) 780-5224
dchaimow@usm.maine.edu 

Lexi Luce
University of Southern Maine
301C Bailey Hall
Gorham, ME 04038
Voice: (207) 228-8138
FAX: (207) 780-5224
aluce@usm.maine.edu

This presentation will demonstrate how a theory-based approach to online learning can be implemented and how effective, accessible learning materials and strategies can be developed and disseminated.

Virtual Assistive Technology University (VATU) is a Web-based sequence of seven courses that prepares educators to integrate and use Web accessibility, assistive technology, specialized software, and universal design in education with children and youth, ages 3 through 21, who have disabilities.

VATU offers an online certificate program in assistive technology for educators, including general education teacher educators, special education teacher educators, general education teachers, special education teachers, future general education teachers, future special education teachers, OTs, PTs, SLPs, guidance counselors, and other service providers.

VATU is funded by the U.S. Department of Education and is the only certificate program offered in assistive technology that is delivered entirely through the Web. Delivered asynchronously in a seven-week format, the courses are instructor-led using a Web-based course management system. The online courses use a framework based on online communities of learners. Course activities include electronic discussions with colleagues and instructors, online readings and e-reflections, interactive projects, and the application of assistive technology tools and strategies to a participant's local school or district.

Key characteristics of VATU include:
--Implementing an innovative approach that combines concurrent training, Web-based professional development, and online resources. A variety of materials is being developed, such as captioned streaming video for posting on the World Wide Web. Participants will have anytime, anywhere access to demonstrations of what assistive technology looks like;
--Combining resources of experts who are on the cutting edge of Internet-based professional development;
--Addressing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Amendments of 1997 that mandate the consideration of assistive technology and assistive technology services;
--Using only accessible strategies in the course training materials and activities. For example, although they are a common tool for conducting real-time conversations, chat areas are not being used in VATU's online courses because they are not accessible to text-to-speech readers.

This presentation will demonstrate how a theory-based approach to online learning can be implemented. The very resources that are the content of the training, universal design, and accessible electronic learning are being applied to the materials themselves. The issue of the exclusion of more and more people from electronic learning as the applications and programs become increasingly sophisticated needs to be addressed. We propose that this can best be accomplished by demonstrating how effective, accessible learning materials and strategies can be developed and disseminated.


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