Sunday, November 29, 2009

Assistive Tech, Module Three

I have been focusing my work on voice recognition software and hardware, and a thought just occurred to me. These tools would be doubly useful (and justifiable in purchasing) since they can aide students who are both permanently and temporarily disabled. What I mean is this: there are students who will constantly need the help that voice recognition software presents, and then there are students who may only need it once in their education, after breaking an arm. With athletics and just general kid-ness, many of my students come to school temporarily unable to write due to a fracture. As a Language Arts teacher, this can be frustrating, but if my school made the purchase of assistive tech such as voice recognition software, my students could utilize this when temporarily incapacitated.

EBooks are another great example of assistive tech that is not only useful to learners with some form of disability. Access to classic ebooks allows students to read via school computer, even if they do not have computer access at home. This is useful because an ebook can not be "Lost", so students will not have to remember to return library books, sometimes depriving their classmates of the same text. My students are about to read "A Christmas Carol", and I have found a full text eversion of the novel that I am going to ask that they read at home, to further enhance our in-class reading and discussions.

There are so many ways to apply assistive technology in ways that help all learners! It's really amazing what is available: such a far cry from my own childhood when the internet was still a novelty.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Assistive Tech, Module Two

The videos this week are really powerful. The graphic artist is particularly inspiring to me because it is so easy to get tunnel vision and view artists within the stereotype of standing at an easel, holding a paint brush in one hand and a paint pallet in another.

I also had no idea how many assistive tech hardware options there are out there! The foot controlled mouse is just one of many options.

In thinking about assistive tech in terms of my school library, I have been thinking most about a young man who is confined to a motorized wheelchair and has no body movement. I don't teach him, so I am not sure what his diagnosis is, but we exchange greetings in the hall just about every morning. To that end, I think I want to focus on voice recognition technology, and the piece of hardware that I have selected is this, the Cyber-Acoustics Speech Recognition Stereo Headset. To be used in conjunction with voice recognition software, this headset would enable the student at my school to compose works on the computer orally, since he does not have use of his hands.

My one complaint about all the amazing hardware available is the price. The headset alone costs anywhere from $26-$45, and this is very much the low end of the spectrum. How will school districts and public institutions which have already faced severe budget cuts in recent years afford the technology that would help make learning inclusive for all students? The expense should not be preventative, and the prices I have seen on enablemart make me think that may be the case.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Assistive Tech, Module One

In my educational training, the focus on students with disabilities was much more centered around cognitive impairments, so this week's module has opened some interesting areas for me. For example, I am intrigued by the "Braille is Beautiful" teaching resource sold by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). It would be really interesting to tie in a unit on Braille for my Language Arts students with the use of the play "The Miracle Worker." Currently, I do not have any students who are blind, but this would be a good awareness raising activity for all my students. Something to think about and ask my department head if there is money to purchase the kit!

In the broader world, I found JAN (the Job Accommodation Network)to be an amazing resource, one which I am surprised I have never heard of. JAN exists to help not only persons with disabilities but employers as well, and I was impressed with the training they could offer a potential employer to increase the hiring of people with disabilities. This would be a wonderful resource in high schools, for the guidance counselors to navigate and make available to any students they may serve who would benefit from it. This site would be useful for special education educators at all levels, as well.

I am excited about the AT modules, because I have felt a bit unstable in my training to serve my students with disabilities in the best way, so these modules should provide me with a better understanding and some ideas to incorporate into my classroom.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Week Nine, Thing Twenty-Three

1. What were your favorite discoveries or exercises on this learning journey?
I think my favorite discoveries during this program were wikis. I had been introduced to the idea of a sandbox wiki before, but the possible classroom applications really seem endless, and this experience made me start thinking about those options.
2. How has this program assisted or affected your lifelong learning goals?
My lifelong learning goals have expanded to include cutting edge technologies (such as the 2.0 options). Prior to this experience, I was solely focused on learning in the physical sense, through action and interaction, but these different 2.0 technologies can enhance that goal and are things I want to continue to learn and work with.
3. Were there any take-a-ways or unexpected outcomes from this program that surprised you?
Honestly, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed blogging on an academic topic. Taking my MSLS online has been stressful for me, mainly because I have missed carrying on conversations with teachers and classmates, but blogging in this manner gave me a way to really reflect on my learning experience, and to see and respond to the experiences of my classmates.
4. What could we do differently to improve upon this program’s format or concept?
I didn't have any difficulties with Classroom 2.0, and I really enjoyed this program.
5. If we offered another discovery program like this in the future, would you choose to participate? If so, check out Discovering Assistive Technology.
I think I would certainly make time to participate in something like this in the future.
6. How would you describe your learning experience in ONE WORD or in ONE SENTENCE, so we could use your words to promote Classroom Learning 2.0 learning activities?
Unexpectedly easy!

Week Nine, Thing Twenty-Two

Ah, eBooks and audio books. I had the opportunity to catalog some eBooks that my school recieved free last year, and I am sure I made some mistakes in the process, but I love that some of the canonical classics are available for free and digitally, so that students don't have to purchase books that, let's face it, they would not likely read on their own. Hooray for eBooks!

I was disapointed that the time frame for the World eBook Fair has closed for 2009, so those resources are only available with a subscription until next July. Something to keep in mind as the date approaches, perhaps, and prepare to download whatever I want when the free window opens up again.

Audio books are also a wonderful resource. I have seen them used with great success for students struggling to read at grade level, and in those instances the audio books have opened countless literary doorways that reluctant or struggling readers might never have discovered if they were only provided with the print copy of the text. I try to incorporate audio books into my classroom when appropriate: in fact, when reading Poe's "Tell Tale Heart" just last month, I had my students follow along in the text while listening to a dramatized audio version of the story, complete with creepy music and sound effects. The story seemed to click with more of my students in this way, and the majority of them seemed to retain much more of the information from the story.

I love using audio books with students, and in my dream library I would love to stock the shelves with text and audio copies of some of the more popular and more challenging stories, to better serve the full school population, not just the avid readers. The only difficulty with such an ambition is the money it would cost to purchase audio books, and the expense if such materials were lost by students. Perhaps a PTA grant could fund this idea, and maybe loss could be cut down by teachers providing a few personal cd players so that students could listen to the books while at school.

Something to think about...

Week Nine, Thing Twenty-One

Podcasts. The term is not new to me, mainly due to my husband's obsession with the spoken word. He downloads certain NPR podcasts on a weekly basis and listens to them whenever he has time. The ease of being able to listen to a favorite radio broadcast in your own time, not tied to the radio schedule, is really nice.

I have utilized a few grammar-based podcasts in my classroom this year, thanks to the information shared by another Language Arts teacher, and it has been a nice way to mix up my lessons. For myself, however, podcasts do not really appeal.

I have never been much of a fan of audio books, and I have only recently begun to enjoy a very specific program that NPR puts out ("The World", if you're interested), so podcasts and the entire audio world does not hold much draw for me. Had I lived in the radio era, I would have been the black sheep of the family, preferring to read the text of a book rather than listen to the nightly broadcast.

I did explore some of the podcasts on the links provided at Classroom 2.0, but again, nothing jumped out at me: I thought perhaps a book review cast, but I realized I get distracted listening to a disembodied voice speak, and don't get as much out of the review as if I had read it myself.

My own learning style aside, I can see the use of podcasts in the classroom, both to listen and to create. I am open to integrating this technology into my work, but I doubt it will ever find a place in my personal life.

Week Nine, Thing Twenty

I have enjoyed Youtube for entertainment purposes through most of my undergraduate studies (I have a minor obsession with performers like Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, and Youtube is the place to find great footage!)

I really liked the "introducing the book" video, and the "librarian manifesto" made some very good statements, but the video I want to share today deals with freedom to read and Banned Books Week.
This is a GREAT video, and is something I could really use with my students, despite the fact that Banned Books Week has already passed this year.

The only difficulty with using Youtube at least in my school district is that the site is blocked district wide, and will not generally be unblocked on a teacher to teacher basis. (My district is huge) My librarian uses video clips from TeacherTube frequently, and there are some good ones on there, too, but I would love to be able to use Youtube in my school at some point in the future.

On a more personal note, I have found my brother on Youtube multiple times (high school marching band skits and silly films), and I found a video from the late 90's that was shown at my high school on the weekly news that I never thought I'd see again. The possibilities of video sharing are endless!