2003 Conference Proceedings

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ESTABLISHING AN AAC RESEARCH PROGRAM IN AN EDUCATIONAL SETTING

Presenter
Mary Hunt-Berg
The Bridge School
545 Eucalyptus Ave.
Hillsborough, CA 94010
(650) 696-7295
Email: huntberg@aol.com

Catherine Sementelli
The Bridge School
545 Eucalyptus Ave.
Hillsborough, CA 94010
(650) 696-7295
Email: csemente@bridgeschool.org

Introduction

Increasingly often, AAC research programs are being developed outside of university settings. Since its inception, the founders of the Bridge School envisioned the organization as being a recognized leader in the field of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). Recently, in taking a step towards sustaining its vision into the future, Bridge School's Board of Directors decided to establish its own AAC research program.

For over fifteen years, The Bridge School has a rich tradition of providing state of the art educational and clinical services to students with severe speech and physical impairment who use AAC. The Bridge School maintains ongoing contact with most of its former graduates thus creating an opportunity to conduct a range of AAC research activities involving both school-aged children and individuals who have entered the adult world.

The process of establishing a research program within a school setting has clear advantages over other settings, yet introduces additional unique challenges not typically considered while addressing the urgent educational and communication needs of its students. This presentation describes some of the issues raised by the research process and provides strategies for addressing these issues.

Organizational Issues

It often is a challenge to establish a research program within a setting that by tradition provides clinical and educational services to students and families. Situating a research program within a clinical setting requires a mutual appreciation of the unique contributions and demands of each program. On one hand, educational activities must be guided by urgent educational and communication needs of individual students attending the school. In contrast, research activities must operate using recognized methods of scientific inquiry to objectively and systematically advance AAC knowledge. Each requires different activities and timelines. An application of Boyer's scholarship model will be shared as a valuable tool used by Bridge School to frame open discussions regarding these important differences. We will describe ways that we have found to balance program needs and resources in ways that positively impact and integrate with daily school operations.

Forming Collaborative Research Relationships

Bridge School decided its research efforts would be enhanced through collaborative endeavors with universities and other research organizations. The rationale and processes used to formalize collaborative relationships with university researchers will also be described. The general organizational structure of the research program will be shared to illustrate our solutions for conducting relevant AAC research activities in order to enhance, rather than overly or negatively impact, the goals and operation of the educational program at Bridge School. We also will describe our scientific advisory committee whose role is to provide ongoing scientific expertise to guide our research efforts.

Determining a Research Agenda

Although the field of AAC has an extremely wide range of research needs, it was necessary to collaboratively develop a research agenda for the Bridge School. This presentation will describe a multi-stage process that enabled Bridge School to identify a clear research direction. This process involved listening to all stakeholders including the board of directors, families of the Bridge School students, Bridge School staff, as well as AAC researchers from various university settings with a broad range of research expertise in the AAC field. For example, in early discussions of the new research program, members of the board of directors indicated a preference to support a focused line of research rather than a series of unrelated projects. This collaborative process allowed Bridge to arrive at a broad, yet focused research agenda that addresses the needs of the Bridge School organization as well as the needs of the AAC field.

Research Integrity Mechanisms in a School Setting

Although most researchers are well versed in frameworks used to apply for government funds, seeking funding from the private sector for start-up, supplemental, or ongoing costs is not the same process as applying for a government research grant. Initially, Bridge School's research program is funded privately. A business plan model was used to explain funding requirements for the research program at Bridge School. Based on an adaptation of a business plan approach, this presentation describes a framework for successfully developing a business plan to outline your AAC research plans and funding requirements. As the components of a sound business plan are described, participants will learn strategies to capture the attention of prospective funders and to present complex research plans, goals, and funding needs in a well organized & thorough, yet very succinct, manner.

Approaching Funding Sources

Professionals and families in a school setting may not be aware of significant research-specific issues such as mandatory human subjects protections and institutional review board requirements and procedures. Like many school-based organizations, Bridge School initially did not have its own human subjects protection policies and Institutional Review Board in place. This presentation addresses several options available to schools and other organizations, each with their own advantages and drawbacks, to meet the important research process requirement of protecting the rights of research participants. Furthermore, strategies for providing research integrity education for all school and research staff involved in any aspect of a given research project, now a requirement for federal research funding, also will be shared.

References

Boyer, Ernest L. (1997). Scholarship Reconsidered. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.


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