AN ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY MODULE WITHIN A TEACHER PREPARATION PROGRAM
P. O. Box 30001/MSC 3 SPE
Day Phone: 505-646-5971
New Mexico State University
P. O. Box 30001/MSC 3 SPE
Las Cruces, NM 88003
Day Phone: 505-646-5971
“Despite access enhancement and the advancements in technology, surprisingly, today’s teachers are not entering the classroom well prepared to use technology” (Milken as cited in Smith, 2000). Many teacher candidates believe that Assistive Technology (AT) is “complicated and difficult to use” (Dissinger, 2003), expensive, and prescribed by certified specialists (Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, Speech/Language Pathologists). Historically, AT has been determined through evaluations conducted by these specialists; however, it is most important that special educators understand AT, what is available, and how these devices might impact their students.
As the issues of equity and accessibility for children with disabilities in K-12 schools are outlined in No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA – 2004), providing appropriate AT is critical in order for students to become competitive with their peers and in the work place. “The appropriate application of AT can promote fuller participation within school, home, and community environments and improve the overall quality of life of individuals with disabilities (Bryant, Erin, Lock, Allan, & Resta, 1998).
As faculty in a teacher preparation program in a southwest border university, we consistently look for ways to better prepare our teacher candidates; especially in the area of AT. An interactive power point presentation was developed as a module and presented to teacher candidates during their student teaching semester. The purpose of the presentation is to create awareness about AT, highlight the law and the history of AT, and present a variety of AT devices. The module is organized according to the seven categories identified by the National Assistive Technology Research Institute (NATRI).They include: (a) Existence; (b) Communication; (c) Body Support, Protection, and Positioning; (d) Travel and Mobility; (e) Environmental Interaction; (f) Education and Transition; and (g) Sports, Fitness, and Recreation.
An Assistive Technology Module
Certainly, setting aside one class period that focuses on AT is not enough time to investigate AT devices, explore a variety of evaluation tools, and highlight AT services. It may, however, be enough time to help teacher candidates explore and interact with a variety of devices. The knowledge gained will help to provide them with the ability to discuss the topic with other professionals at their placement sites. The module is designed to produce the following outcomes: (a) engage in discussion and develop awareness of Assistive Technology--what it is and what is available; (b) identify the seven NATRI categories and list devices appropriate for each; (c) explore and examine a variety of AT devices that may be appropriate for the children with whom they work.
At the beginning of class, there is a discussion that focuses on prior experiences and knowledge of AT along with characteristics of students who may require specific devices. When asked to define AT, comments usually begin with expensive high-end computers and sophisticated software. Then, during the module presentation, the history of AT is presented and brought into the discussion. Students are asked to apply Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) and other principles of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEIA--2004) as they pertain to AT.
The discussion continues with the seven categories of AT as developed by NATRI. Several devices are presented in each category, and teacher candidates have the opportunity to identify these devices and predict how they might be used and who may benefit by their use. At the end of the presentation, additional devices are demonstrated, and students are able to actively explore them.
As Assistive Technology becomes a more specialized field, it is important that teacher preparation programs include AT in their curriculum. As TEP programs are already packed with methods courses and field experiences, adding one more course to the program is highly unlikely. In addition, trained and qualified AT faculty, who are available to teach AT courses, are scarce (Babbitt, 2003). Possibly, the greatest benefit of this AT module is “to provide information, resources, and hands-on experiences with the technologies for individuals who made decisions about AT for students with disabilities” (Dissinger, 2003).
As individuals with disabilities encounter many barriers on a daily basis, they often experience difficulties coping with the demands that are placed upon them from the environment. Assistive Technology is one way to help them eliminate these barriers in the classroom, at home, and in the work place. New teachers in special education and general education are required to address AT in IEP meetings. In order to make informed decisions and advocate for their students, they need to understand that AT is more than expensive computers and sophisticated software. Through the AT module, our teacher candidates are better able to enter the teaching profession informed and knowledgeable about AT.
Babbitt, B. (2003). Features of effective graduate degree training in assistive technology at a distance. Retrieved September 6, 2005 from http://www.csun.edu/cod/conf/2003/proceedings/csun03.htm. Proceedings of the Center On Disabilities: Technology And Persons With Disabilities Conference 2003
Dissinger, F. (2003). Core curriculum in assistive technology: In-Service for special educators and therapists. Journal of Special Education Technology, 18(2), 35 – 45.
Milken Family Foundation (1998). Milken report [http://www.mff.org/]. In S. Smith (Ed.), Teacher education. Journal of Special Education Technology, 15, 59-62.