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Gabrielle Miller, EdD
Robin Church, EdD
Kennedy Krieger Institute
3825 Greenspring Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21211
According to the National Longitudinal Transition Study (SRA, 1993) the post-secondary experiences of students with severe disabilities are characterized by a pattern of unemployment and under-employment. In response to the need for educational programs to support the successful transition of these students from school to work, the Kennedy Krieger Institute opened a unique school-to-work secondary education program in the fall of 1999. Using the school-to-work model outlined by Congress in the 1994 School-to-Work Opportunities Act, this secondary program insures that students with severe learning, emotional, and developmental disorders have the opportunity to receive instruction that directly links school-based, work-based, and connecting activities. This instruction is provided to students through an instructional model that replicates the challenges, both practical and technological, found in the workplace. Not surprisingly, there have been unanticipated challenges in the creation of both the instructional model and the technological elements needed to support the model.
The purpose of this article is to outline the programmatic challenges faced in the first phase of program development and the technological solutions identified to help support the continued development of the program.
Enrollment levels have increased dramatically since the inception of the program in 1999. Over the course of the three years the program has been in existence, enrollment has grown from 35 students in the 1999-2000 school year to an anticipated enrollment of 195 for the 2002-2003 school year.
The program's rapid growth in enrollment has resulted in two significant challenges to completing, and maintaining the integrity of the school-to-work instructional model. The first relates to the critical need to expand the work-based learning program. Secondly, as the school-to-work program expands there is a need to extend the technological infrastructure to support instruction, collaboration, and professional development, necessary to insure the success of the program.
Expanding the Work-based Learning Program
All KKS-CTC industry-based instruction blends 'best practice' for instruction of students with disabilities with content and performance skills identified by industry groups as necessary to achieve industry-based certification. Industry certifications are issued after candidates successfully complete assessments that demonstrate knowledge and skills at a performance level required to be successful in a particular field. For example, KKS-CTC students who are enrolled in the Information Technology Cluster work toward developing the skills necessary to receive industry certification in PC hardware repair (A+ Certification), Software skills (Microsoft Office User Certification- MOUS), or network cabling (Cable TECH Certification).
Currently KKS-CTC offers four industry clusters: Construction Trades, Hospitality and Food Services, Retail and Consumer Services, and Information Technology. Student interest and program growth has necessitated the opening of an additional cluster. In the fall of 2003 the Arts and Communications cluster will be opened. This cluster will focus on work-based experiences relating to computer aided design, graphic arts, and related career areas.
Extending the Technological Infrastructure
There are also very specific professional training needs to insure that all instructional staff have a clear understanding of issues related to accessibility and universal design for technology.
It is also important for both content-based and work-based instructional staff to be aware of the changing demands of the workplace. First hand experiences on a job site are a critical element in insuring that instructional staff have the perspective needed to create activities that directly link the classroom to the world of work. The blending of work-based and content-based instruction requires real-time opportunities to connect with both employers and the general education curriculum. In the original planning of the program, these opportunities were to be facilitated by on-campus experiences with employers and membership in the Maryland Distance Learning Network (MDLN) a closed network through which participating schools can offer and receive instructional programming and professional development. However, neither the real-time connections to employers nor enhanced access the general education curriculum evolved in the way anticipated. While employers remain very interested in participating in the program, it is very difficult for them to be physically present on a regular basis. As a result, very few students (other than those involved in off-campus experiences)have had the opportunity to interact regularly (either in person or through electronic mentoring) with employers.
What follows is a description of The Interactive Network for Training, Education, and Research of the Kennedy Krieger Institute (INTER-KKI), a comprehensive communication and information management network through which the Kennedy Krieger Institute seeks to improve service delivery for students with disabilities.
There are four elements of INTER-KKI, each of which will play a role in comprehensive communication and information management: a) student and professional electronic communities, b) a link to the Maryland Distance Learning Network, c) network-based communications systems, and d) www.KKI.org.
Electronic Learning Communities
Electronic learning communities (EC) will provide students and professionals with an easy to use vehicle through which they can communicate and collaborate. The specific features of each EC will be customized to reflect the different needs of each group. For students, the development and maintenance of an EC will not only provide a communication tool but an invaluable work-based learning opportunity for students interested in information technology as a post-secondary career field. A student-focused EC can also be a way for students to maintain ongoing communication with employers and share information about their high school experience (i.e. a calendar of events, photos, updates from sporting events, a homework hotline, a link to KKI.org, etc.).
Maryland Distance Learning Network
As discussed earlier, although KKS-CTC has maintained membership in the MDLN, opportunities for students and staff to contribute to programming and/or participate in training events offered over the network have been delayed. By incorporating MDLN into INTER-KKI, the technical and logistic limitations related to participation will be removed. Professionals and students will be able to access programming via a link through INTER-KKI to their classrooms and/or the school's computer lab and/or media center. Opportunities for industry-based training to support students working toward an industry-based certificate can be made available along with academic courses needed to earn a diploma. Similarly, ongoing professional development activities for content and industry-based instructors along with discussions relating to expanding opportunities for accountability of students with disabilities could be held with educators and administrators around Maryland.
Network-based Communications Systems
The network on which INTER-KKI will be based will offer a means through which communication and information management goals can be met. In all likelihood, users would access these functions via their electronic learning community, however final decisions about access methods will be made in the initial implementation stages.
There are three network-based communication systems which will be available to users via INTER-KKI; PC-TV, Archived Video, and Network Broadcasts. PC-TV refers to the delivery of live, high-quality video content to desktop computers, classrooms, and meeting rooms on demand. Viewers will be able to watch subject matter experts, see synchronized Power Point presentations, and ask interactive questions. The Archived Video capacity of the system will enable video to be saved and viewed at a later time, eliminating issues relating to scheduling. The Network Broadcast function of the system will enable live video to be simultaneously broadcast to all user, video which can also be archived if needed.
The flexibility of the system enables a variety of user options from communication between two desktops to communication between a desktop and individuals in a conference room, to wide-range broadcasts. This flexibility supports communication and participation in meetings and trainings that logistical barriers might otherwise have limited.
A related information management system will enable system managers to keep track of viewing records (who viewed which video, when) and the frequency and duration of the network's use in live broadcasts between locations.
Whether the communication is between two sites, an archived training program, or a network broadcast, a network system that will offer multiple means for communication between disciplines and significantly reduce the barriers of location and time are a critical element in the use of INTER-KKI as a communication tool.
The inclusion of www.Kennedykrieger.org, the Kennedy Krieger Institute's web site, is an important component in the INTER-KKI network. Although the web site has existed for some time, efforts are currently under way to update it to reflect KKI's most recent efforts related to training, education, and research. A link to the Internet, via kennedykrieger.org, not only offers the opportunity for students and staff to link to outside agencies, but provides an additional means to disseminate information related to research and program development at KKI.
Each of the components of INTER-KKI offers important means through which the training, education, and research challenges faced by KKS-CTC can be addressed. More importantly, however, this network also offers a model through which expanding (often under-utilized) technological capacity can be organized in a meaningful way to support student achievement, professional development, outcomes for students with disabilities.
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