2004 Conference Proceedings

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Lori A. Geist, M.S., CCC-SLP
DynaVox Systems LLC
2100 Wharton St., Suite 400
Pittsburgh, PA 16203
Phone: (800) 344-1778 extension 7835
Email: lori.geist@dynavoxsystems.com


Rapid advances in assistive technology place high learning demands on the professionals involved in the implementation process, with limited time and resources available to acquire new information and skills. It is critical that professionals identify learning opportunities likely to provide information relevant to their learning needs. Adults bring unique experiences, areas of expertise, and special interests to the learning process. The Web has the potential to serve as a host for online collaboration and learning. Participants can exchange ideas with other professionals, ask questions, and seek advice. Online collaborative learning experiences are likely to increase motivation and support the relevance of information to the learner. Self-paced learning tools, like CD-ROMs and online tutorials, provide professionals with options for learning at the time, place, and pace that they prefer.

This session will provide research-based support for the use of the Web for communication, collaboration, and learning. In addition, strategies and resources for identifying professional development opportunities in the field of assistive technology will be provided.

Online Professional Development Opportunities:

Professionals are enthusiastically turning to computers and the Web as powerful tools for learning. Advances in technology provide new ways for adults to work, learn, and share information, providing opportunities for professionals to learn from others around the world who are interested in similar topics (Yoder, 2001). People do not learn and work in isolation, but rather they interact with others throughout their lives and greatly value the ability to work collaboratively (Soto, Muller, Hunt, & Goetz, 2001). People tend to turn to other people when they are faced with a new learning challenge; therefore bringing learners together via the Web serves to provide scaffolding, encouragement, and support (Wilson & Lowry, 2000). Research suggests that student-to-student dialogue can promote learning, emphasizing a student-centered approach by actively involving learners and promoting the development and use of critical thinking skills (King, 2001). Learners can participate online as members of a group, exchange ideas in professional discussions, and interact with self-paced learning tutorials. Online discussion environments support a directed and archived flow of concepts, ideas and opinions between participants (McCampbell, 2000).

Computer-enhanced learning opportunities provide professionals with new ways to control their learning environments. Professionals can participate in formal group trainings, share effective strategies, ask questions, and seek advice and assistance from other participants, while maintaining focus on the pursuit of information that is most relevant to their areas of interest, expertise, and immediate professional needs. Computer-based training offers several advantages over traditional instructor-led training, including options for using self-paced approaches to learning with multi-media presentation using screen text, audio, photographs, charts, animation, and video (Harrington & Walker, 2002). When adults recognize that they are able to control the direction of their learning, just as they are able to control other aspects of their lives, they will likely experience a motivation increase to continue the learning process (Terehoff, 2002). The hypertext environment allows learners to exercise much more control over their learning experience than those reading a book or listening to a lecture (Wilson & Lowry, 2000), further enhancing self-directed learning opportunities. Online learning opportunities enhance professional development programs, without increasing time away from the workplace. For example, school professionals may participate in online learning anytime they have access to the Internet (Oelrich, 2001). Key advantages of training online is the potential to allow the learner to select the level of information they want and review it as often as needed, at the time, place, and pace that they prefer (Mistret, 2001).

If used in a planned and directed way, online conferencing tools can create and foster online communities (McCampbell, 2000). The purpose of the online community must be clearly defined to participants. Kim (2000) suggests that the critical areas to define include the type, the purpose, and for whom the community is designed. In addition to clear definitions and a well-structured environment, participants must be encouraged and given the necessary support materials to become confident with the tools and guidelines for participating in the new online learning environment. Comfort with the technology will influence participants' sense of psychological well-being and positively impact their likelihood to participate (Palloff & Pratt, 1999). Computers and the telecommunication-networks responsible for carrying our telephone calls, make up the technical structure of the computer-mediated communications used for online conferencing (Rheingold, 1998).

Online conferencing can be synchronous or asynchronous. Synchronous describes a type of communication that requires participants to communicate at the same time, while asynchronous describes a type of communication that can occur at any time (Palloff & Pratt, 1999). Web-based video conferencing, chat rooms, and most whiteboards are examples of synchronous online conferencing tools. These tools are powerful for holding scheduled learning events, preparing for and debriefing after a collaborative activity or project, discussing something as it is happening, and for simply socializing with peers (Kim, 2000).

E-mail listservs are an example of asynchronous computer-mediated communication (CMC) tools. Examples of active e-mail lists within the field of augmentative and alternative communication include the Augmented Communicators On-Line Users' Group (ACOLUG) and the Promoting Augmentative Communication Together (PACT) group. Discussion forums, sometimes referred to as message boards or bulletin boards, are also asynchronous online conferencing tools. Discussion forums allow conversations to happen over a period of days, weeks, and even months, allowing participants time to reflect, practice, and apply concepts presented in discussion. Participants can post and respond to context-specific questions as they arise. In comparison, e-mail, although a powerful tool for a one-way flow of information, does not promote sustained interaction among a group of participants, largely due to message overload from the volume of loosely connected content. Discussion forums allow participants to focus on one conversation at a time and, with all messages maintained on a central server, participants can respond from any computer at anytime (Newell, Wilsman, Langenfeld, McIntosh, 2002). Discussion forums on topics within the field of assistive technology include, but are not limited to, the following: the International Society of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ISAAC) Interactive Forum, MSN Assistive Technology Forum, and message boards available on a variety of assistive technology manufacturers' websites. Session participants will be provided with the necessary access information for joining and participating in the discussed online e-mail lists and discussion forums.

Online learning environments to support professional development in the area of assistive technology are becoming more prevalent, as advances in computer-based assistive technology increase the demands for ongoing training by support teams. Given the often complex technical equipment that is required to setup and implement assistive technology solutions, online learning environments should not replace, but rather enhance, traditional face-to-face training. Wahl (2002) suggests that while distance learning is an important strategy for in-service training in the area of assistive technology, opportunity to gain hands-on training and experience is critical to many professionals.

Effective delivery of online professional development opportunities are exemplified, but not limited to, the following online programs:

  1. The Assistive Technology Applications Certificate Program (ATACP) has provided training to more than 800 professionals by combining 52 hours of online learning with 40 hours of live training and an 8-hour final project (Behnke & Marotta, 2001).

  2. The Assistive Technology Training Online Project (ATTO) (http://atto.buffalo.edu/), provides training at a variety of levels including awareness, technical skills, applied knowledge, and resources (Mistrett, 2001).

  3. DynaVox Systems Distance Training Program provides online conferences on specialty topics in AAC, self-paced programming tutorials, and an online discussion forum.

  4. RIATT@NASDSE (http://www.nasdse.com/), the Research Institute for Assistive and Training Technologies (RIATT) and the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE) combined, offers online assistive technology training on a variety of topics in the field of assistive technology.

  5. The American Speech-Language and Hearing Association (ASHA) provides online continuing education opportunities in augmentative and alternative communication to speech-language pathologists through live web conferences and self-study programs.


Online learning opportunities are becoming more readily available in the field of assistive technology. Through online community involvement, use of self-paced study tools, and participation in web-based conferencing and instruction, professionals can strive to remain current in the field of assistive technology. Through lecture and demonstration, participants will identify available options for professional development, including involvement in online discussions within communities like ACOLUG, PACT, and ISAAC Interactive; participation in online conferences on specialty topics offered through organization like ASHA and DynaVox Systems; and through the consideration of professional certification programs like the ATACP. Session participants will be provided resources for exploring the highlighted online communities and programs. Time will be allotted to answer questions and promote discussion regarding online professional development opportunities and experiences.


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Harrington, S., & Walker, B. (2002). A comparison of computer-based and instructor-led training for long-term care staff. The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing, 33(1), 39-45.

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Oelrich, K. ( 2001). Virtual schools: A 21st century strategy for teacher professional development. T.H.E. Journal, 28 (11), 48-50.

Palloff, R. & Pratt, K. (1999). Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace: Effective Strategies for the Online Classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Inc.

Rheingold, H. (1998). The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier. Retrieved November 20, 2002, from http://www.rheingold.com/vc/book/biblio.html

Sandell, K., & Hayes, S. (2002). The Web's impact on social work education: opportunities, challenges, and future directions. Journal of Social Work Education, 38(1), 85-99.

Soto, G., Muller E., Hunt, P., & Goetz, L. (2001). Professional skills for serving students who use AAC in general education classrooms: A team perspective. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 3, 51-56.

Terehoff, I. (2002). Elements of adult learning in teacher professional development. NASSP Bulletin, 86, 65-77.

Wahl, L (2002). Alliance for technology access: Report on the need for assistive technology expertise in education and the creation of new models. WestEd RTEC Learning for Everyone (LeaFE) Initiative. Retrieved October 4, 2002 from, http://www.ataccess.org/resources/atk12/Training_Report.pdf

Wilson, B. & Lowry, M. (2000). Constructivist learning on the Web. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 88, 79-88.

Yoder, M. (2001). Is online professional development for you? Learning and Leading with Technology, 29 (4), 57-59.

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