2003 Conference Proceedings

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UNIVERSITY/SCHOOL FOR THE BLIND TECHNOLOGY PARTNERSHIPS

Presenters
Matthew M. Maurer
Butler University
4600 Sunset Ave.
Indianapolis, IN 46208
(317) 940-9207
Email: mmaurer@butler.edu

Martha Meyer
Butler University
4600 Sunset Ave.
Indianapolis, IN 46208
(317) 940-6523
Email: mmeyer@butler.edu

Al Lovati
Indiana School for the Blind
7725 N. College Ave.
Indianapolis, IN 46260
(317) 253-1481 x156
Email: alovati@isb.state.in.us

icdri@icdri.org">icdri@icdri.org

Background

The Butler University College of Education has had an informal partnership with the Indiana School for the Blind for over ten years. In the last two years the two institutions have forged a more formal arrangement. This partnership was formalized to benefit the faculty and students of both institutions.

University Needs

The trend toward inclusion has serious implications on colleges of education. All newly licensed teachers need an increased knowledge and skill to educate students with a wide range of disabilities. It is therefore incumbent upon colleges of education to provide increased levels of experience for their pre-service teachers. Partnerships with other institutions like the Indian School for the Blind (ISB) can augment the teaching and learning environment.

Because of the significant changes in K-12 classrooms, the accreditation requirements for colleges of education are also changing. Accrediting bodies are ramping up the special education requirements for all pre-service teachers, since the majority of students with disabilities are in general education classrooms, including students with visual impairment. Partnerships such as this can help us meet these additional accreditation requirements.

While inclusion is changing the make-up of K-12 classrooms, the Butler student body is changing in a similar fashion. Students with special needs are becoming a larger percentage of our student population. As a result, there is an increased necessity for the faculty and staff at Butler University to better understand the needs of these students. This partnership can contribute to that understanding.

Scholarly activity is a requirement of all university faculty. The ISB provides a rich site for scholarly work. Examining needs of unique populations and then developing and applying appropriate methods using unique materials become possible within this partnership.

One pesky problem faced by university faculty is the ivory tower syndrome. University faculty members tend to lose sight of the true nature of the problems that teachers face. This partnership gives faculty ample opportunity to examine and participate in the real educational challenges. The ISB setting, faculty, staff, and students each provide an opportunity for learning for university faculty. Students gain understanding of the multidisciplinary team approach that is necessary within a residential setting. In addition, the political and social challenges that are faced by the members of the ISB community represent a further opportunity for university faculty development and student pre-service fieldwork.

Blind School Needs

While the university community has needs that are well served by this partnership, the same holds true for the ISB community. One of the great challenges faced by any school serving special populations is staffing. The needs of the students always seem to outstrip our ability to find personnel to meet those needs. This partnership offers a range of opportunities that reduce this problem.

A second challenge faced by the ISB is keeping current. The level of change faced by the teachers of the blind is greater than those faced by teachers in regular schools because of the special nature of the curriculum and the learners. In addition to keeping up with the usual curricular and pedagogical changes (e.g., changing state and national standards), the faculty at the ISB must also keep current with changes in adaptive and assistive technology, they must stay abreast of curricular changes specific to the teaching of blind and low vision students, and they must keep current with pedagogical changes in the teaching of blind and low vision students. This partnership brings additional support to bear on this issue.

With all the demands on the faculty, technology training has not been a high priority. With the recent advances in technology, that means that the ISB teachers have fallen woefully behind. This partnership has offered some important additional resources to help with this problem.

The fact that the ISB is a residential school offers some unique opportunities for extracurricular activities. The problem is finding the staff to organize these activities. This partnership has provided some needed personnel for this purpose, including pre-service students in art and music education.

The level of technology needed by blind and low vision learners is much higher than that needed by the average student. Every additional piece of equipment and every additional piece of software increases the demand for technological support. This partnership has offered some help in the area of support.

Finally, the ISB, as a residential school, is somewhat insolated. This is a problem that the faculty and administration of the school aggressively attacks. This partnership has provided some useful community connections.

Results

The activities that have been initiated through this partnership include:

These activities have benefited each of the partners in several ways. The partnership provides opportunities for a wide range of learning opportunities for Butler students. The ISB provides introductory practicum placements for all pre-service teachers who must demonstrate competencies for teaching students with a wide range of exceptionality. The school also provides a "field trip" site for students in an Assistive Technology course. In addition, the ISB provides a site for students to meet community service requirements in their core courses. The field placements at the ISB for Butler students are particularly valuable because the experiences are so potent and relevant to the student's learning needs while satisfying more stringent accreditation requirements.

A series of technology related in-service activities were co-planned and delivered by an ISB staff member and a Butler faculty member. These activities were held at the ISB, using their own equipment and network. These activities were particularly beneficial to the teachers because they were each directly relevant to their teaching, their students, and their circumstances. These sessions were accompanied by on-going follow-up so the teachers could apply what they had learned. The end result was an improvement of the delivery of instruction.

One of the most powerful outcomes of this partnership has been the formation of the technology club. The middle and high school ISB students who had an interest in technology were organized into a club. This club held weekly meetings and the members were asked to assume additional responsibility at the school. The weekly meetings were learning opportunities for the students. Their additional responsibilities amounted to becoming the "first line of defense" in solving technology problems. The equipment at the ISB is somewhat dated, and the knowledge and experience of the faculty and staff is rather limited. The students were highly effective in solving many of the routine problems, and they were very helpful in relaying good information about the nature of problems back to those who would later be required to resolve those problems.

From the needs expressed by staff members at the ISB, a Butler faculty member solicited student volunteers to open computer labs during evening hours. The student volunteers were pre-service teachers with a technology emphasis. The volunteer opportunity was a benefit to the ISB students who got access to equipment in the evening and well as assistance from the Butler students. It was a benefit to the Butler students by giving them an opportunity to practice existing skills and develop new skills as a technology specialist.

The relationship that has developed between the ISB faculty and the Butler faculty has spawned some interesting scholarly investigations. The development of technical skill among the blind, and issues specific to blind learners and technology have been initiated and will be further investigated over time. Butler faculty and students plan interventions for ISB students with behavioral needs, taking into account their vision impairment.

Conclusions

The strongest aspect of this partnership was the resolve by members on each side to spend time together. Butler students and faculty regularly spent time at the school, and the ISB students and staff regularly spent time with them while they were there. The time spent together was the foundation upon which all the results were built.


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