2006 Conference Proceedings

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David Andrews
Minnesota State Services for the Blind
2200 University Ave. W., #240
St. Paul MN 55114-1840

Day Phone: 651-642-0513
Fax: 651-649-5927
Email: david.b.andrews@state.mn.us

MNSSB has designed and implemented a set of standards for AT trainers, as well as instruction in how to teach adults.  We will explain everything and show you how to implement a certification program to improve the AT training your customers receive.

With the increasing importance of technology to our blind and visually impaired customers, Minnesota State Services for the Blind rehabilitation counselors found that they were spending ever-increasing dollars on technology and training of these customers. We had qualified Assistive Technology Specialists to do technology evaluations, set up and install equipment.  These staff members did general orientation when equipment was delivered or software installed; however, they did not perform long-term training tasks.   Technology trainers, who had contracts with our agency which specified hourly fees and other charges, were hired by counselors according to reputation or geographic location.  More information and standards were needed to ensure that we were getting our money’s worth!

First State Services for the Blind (SSB) brought a group of interested stakeholders together.  They included Community Rehabilitation Program (CRP) staff, current assistive technology (AT) trainers, SSB staff and consumer group representatives.  This group identified the knowledge, skills and abilities that a trainer would need in each area, e.g. Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Word, the Internet, e-mail, spreadsheets, databases, OCR programs, etc.  What came out of this process was a definition of areas in which testing would take place, and a list of necessary knowledge, skills and abilities in each area.  In addition, at each step along the way, the results were also shown to the Assistive Technology staff to get their input and suggestions on the process and recommendations.

While we initially looked to the AT staff to develop the tests, their busy schedules and other commitments would have meant a development time greater then we could accept.  Luckily, SSB had a nationally known rehab and technology author and AT trainer on staff, primarily doing other work, but who we were able to pay overtime to develop a test in each area.  She is Sharon Monthei who has co-authored several works with Doris Willoughby as well as books for National Braille Press and others.

The tests consist of both oral questions and demonstration of knowledge by completion of specified tasks.  The specific questions were designed to measure an applicant’s knowledge in the areas specified in the protocols developed by the SSB/community group.

Once each test was developed, it was administered to a willing and capable staff member or volunteer.  This pilot testing was used to identify problems, unnecessary questions, unclear instructions and the like.  Finally, setup and testing procedures were developed, documented, and the process was started.  The tests are conducted by a four-member team of SSB staff.  Normally only two team members are present – an Administrative person who oversees all testing and training tasks, and an AT Specialist who conducts the actual testing.  If there are problems or a new area is being tested for the first time, additional team members will sit in.

All applicants first choose a software program (i.e.) JAWS for Windows, Window-Eyes, ZoomText etc. or a device, such as Braille Note, Pac Mate etc.  They must take and pass the basic test for that AT software program or device.  All of the tests cover a number of common areas:

* Operating Systems
* Word Processing
* E-mail
* Internet Browser

Each test covers these areas, but may have been tweaked to include or exclude specific features of a software package or device.  An applicant must take the basic test for each area he/she wishes to be certified to teach.  In addition, there are more advanced areas that an instructor can receive certification in.  Here again, he/she would pick a software package(s) or device(s) and take the test in one or more of the following areas:

* PC Operation
* Spread Sheets
* Databases
* Navigate in databases
* Design databases
* Scanning Software
* Other Assistive Technology Areas.

At the same time the tests were being developed, we also worked with a local community college, Century College, to develop a course on how to teach adults.  The class that was ultimately developed totaled 16 hours, conducted in four four-hour sessions.  The course used a variety of techniques to demonstrate how to develop curriculum and how to teach adults among other things.  Specifically, the course included the following areas:

* Professionalism
* Adult Teaching/Learning Styles
* Assessment
* Curriculum Development
* Writing Instructional Objectives/Lesson Plans
* Development of practical exercises and tests

In addition, each student had to complete an independent project that was graded.  It involved developing a lesson plan for a topic they picked themselves.

Once the process was started, candidates had a year to become certified.  In that time, they had to take the adult education class.  We gave it twice and paid all expenses.  They also had to take and pass the Microsoft Windows test as well as the test for any specific AT product for which they wished to teach, JFW, Window-Eyes, ZoomText, Magic, Pac Mate etc.

We are now developing a requirement for continuing education for all certified trainers.  In general, qualified trainers will be expected to attend some combination of vendor demonstrations, SSB-sponsored training sessions and/or technology conferences, such as this one, each year.

While this process doesn’t guarantee that a given person can teach adults, it does eliminate those persons who have inadequate knowledge and skills with technology and/or software, and it exposes everybody to topics dealing with the education of adults.   While AT personnel certification has been talked about for a number of years, to our knowledge, we are the first state agency for the blind in the U.S. to actually implement and enforce a program.

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