Background: For those of you who are new to this blog, I work as a school psychologist in a public school district in North Carolina. During the mid 2000's, I took a variety of computer courses, leading up to a decision to work part time while taking graduate courses part-time such as human-computer interaction, games, information visualization, ubiquitous computing, VR, etc. I returned to work full time in 2008, due to the economic downturn.
I continue to maintain my passion for technology that supports natural user interaction, and share my interests on this blog and to a lesser extent, two other blogs. I initially started blogging because it was a requirement for one of my courses, and found that my blogs served me well as on-line filing cabinets.
Update: I don't usually post much about my work on this blog, but I have some exciting things to share.
New School Year, New SMARTBoard: I'd like am excited about the upcoming school year because my "home" school, Wolfe, a program that serves mostly teens and young adults up to age 22 who have more severe disabilities (including autism), now has an interactive whiteboard in every classroom.
School started for Wolfe students on July 26th, and three more whiteboards were installed. One of the new SMARTboards is in the speech and language room, along with a multi-touch SMARTTable the school received last April, one is in the Art/Work Adjustment room, and one is in the room I use with small groups of students, which is used for music one day a week.
Although I have used interactive whiteboards in my work with students for several years, this is the first year that I have had one available to me most of the time in a school. Since most of the teachers received their IWBs over the past year, there is a pressing need to figure out what works, why it works, and how to create useful interactive content that is appropriate for the needs of students who have severe or multiple disabilities. We really can't wait.
Why is this important to me?
Technology and my role as a school psychologist:
Designing effective interventions is part of my job as a school psychologist, and mixing interactive whiteboards and interventions is fairly uncharted territory. I know that there are probably a few other school psychologists, counselors, social workers, and speech/language therapists out there who are wondering what to make of this technology and the students they serve directly, or indirectly through consultation. There isn't much literature about this topic, so it is difficult to know what is truly "evidence based".
We are in the process of discovery. Within a school that has an IWB in every classroom, serving students with the most complex needs within the school district, how can I best follow professional school psychology practices(pdf) regarding the provision of direct and indirect services. Some of these expectations are listed below:
I work closely with my colleague Kelly Cross, a speech and language therapist who serves Wolfe school and two classrooms of students with severe autism at a "regular" elementary school. Kelly also serves as the assistive technology and augmentative communication consultant for our school district. She's used interactive applications and web resources for many years along with more traditional "hands-on" materials, but like me, has had limited access to IWB's until recently. She now has a SMARTboard in her room, along with the portable multi-touch SMARTTable Wolfe received last April. We work with many of the same students, so with the influx of IWBs in our school, we've stepped up our collaboration.
One of Kelly's challenges is to figure out ways for teachers to integrate assistive technology and/or augmentative communication systems into their work with students during activities that involve interactive whiteboards. Most of the research the area of assistive technology/aug com focuses on the use of technology to access applications as they are displayed on laptops or computer monitors, or factors related to the use of individual communication devices. The vSked project, led by Dr. Gillian Hayes at the University of California at Irvine, is on the right track in that it incorporates the use of a large interactive display that was used with students with autism, along with smaller hand-held communication systems, which I've discussed in a previous post.
vSKED in action
This past week, Kelly and I presented at a workshop held in the Arlington VA school district that focused on the use of interactive whiteboards and related applications and web resources with students with special needs. We shared some of the exciting things we've noticed with our students and shared "before and after" examples. Included in the presentation were some of the video clips I quickly put together during the first days of school that had an impressive positive impact with students when they were used during interactive whiteboard activities. (Some of these video clips can be found in a previous post: Video clips that help students with autism learn and feel calm at the same time!)
During the workshop, we discussed a few guiding principals, such as the "least dangerous assumption" and the concept of Universal Design for Learning. We also provided a sampling of resources previously used on the "small screen" appear to powerful when used with students interacting on the larger whiteboard screens. Below are a few of the resources we shared:
Clicker5 is an application to support reading and writing that provides a natural voice output, and child-friendly word processor. It works well on interactive whitboards It can incorporate several communication symbol systems. It is a good tool for informal assessment with students with communication and other related needs.
Teachers who want a limited browsing environment for their students the Zac Browser is great for use on IWBs and the new large all-in-one touch screen displays:
One thing we've learned over the past few months is that it is bit more complicated to create content and activities for the SMARTTable than for the SMARTBoard notebook or Promethean flipchart. We hope to have it customized to support scaffolded, customized classroom activities for students with special needs, but it might take more time than we had anticipated. The school's immediate need is for touchable interactive content for all of the classroom IWB's, suitable for our students.
Programming for the SMARTTable, for those who have 64-bit computers, requires Windows 7, Visual Studio 2008, and Expression Blend 3. My HP Touchsmart, my home computer, is 64 bit, but runs Vista. My school-issued laptop runs Windows XP and is also 64-bit. To upgrade it, I will have to send it to the tech department for several weeks. It will be slow-going, since I have to plan for my day-to-day activities and evaluations with students first.
Possible SMARTTable Solutions:
I'm hoping that some students from UNC-Charlotte might want to try their hand at multi-touch programming and help us out! We'd welcome volunteers from other universities as well. Wolfe's principal, Mary Jo Breckenridge, is very supportive of the use of innovative technologies with students with special needs, and would figure out a way to make a collaboration happen.
Multi-touch & Gesture Responsive Web & Related Applications: Helpful if you have a touch-screen or IWB